Retro Film Review: The Big Hit (1998)


Reason why Hong Kong films tend to be better than their Hollywood blockbuster counterparts can be found in the simple fact that Hong Kong film makers occasionally go where their Hollywood colleagues would not. A good example for that can be found in the film that tried very hard to be the most faithful application of Hong Kong film making practices in Hollywood. The Big Hit, 1998 action comedy directed by Kirk Wong, was almost unanimously savaged by American critics because many of them saw film's content and tone beyond the standards established by 1990s Hollywood.

Protagonist of the film is Melvin Smiley (played by Mark Wahlberg), sweet-natured man who earns his living as a contract killer. Goodness of heart is abused by people around him, and that includes his partner Cisco (played by Lou Diamond Phillips), Jewish fiancee Pam (played by Christina Applegate) and black mistress Chantel (played by Lela Rochon). Faced with financial ruin, Melvin reluctantly agrees to join Cisco and two of his friends when they kidnap Keiko Nishi (played by China Chow), daughter of wealthy Japanese businessman (played by Sab Shimono). This turns out to be huge mistake, not only because Keiko's father recently went bankrupt. Keiko happens to be god-daughter of Paris (played by Avery Brooks), boss of Melvin's and Cisco's crew. Faced with Paris' anger, Cisco puts the blame on Melvin, who, unaware of the danger, tries to build some sort of relationship with the beautiful hostage.

American critics' reaction to The Big Hit shows that they still misunderstood Hong Kong cinema after years of Tarantino-inspired craze. Hong Kong action comedies (and genre films in general) can be truly appreciated only if they are taken as entertainment and nothing more. But The Big Hit was taken seriously, at least at subconscious level - many critics couldn't stand the idea of hired killer being a nice man or this film's playfulness with ethnic, cultural and gender stereotypes nor the way in which this film defied "politically correct" taboos of 1990s Hollywood. For them The Big Hit was film that promotes racism, misogyny, violence and anti-Semitism. Alleged racist past of its star Mark Wahlberg didn't help either.

Those viewers who unshackle themselves from Hollywood taboos and take this film as a harmless entertainment are probably going to view The Big Hit as a successful marriage of Hong Kong over-the-top surrealism with American talent. Director Kirk Wong and scriptwriter Ben Ramsey manage to squeeze plenty of entertaining content into 90-minute package – great action scenes (followed with replays that explain how certain characters managed to evade obvious death or injury), excellent dialogue and humour. The acting in the film is more tha impressive - Mark Wahlberg is very convincing as sweet-natured killer, while Lou Diamond Phillips obviously enjoys opportunity to play the role of over-the-top villain. Avery Brooks is also good as charismatic mobster, while Bookeem Woodbine almost outshines everyone else in the memorable role of Melvin's friend who found the simple formula for happiness in life. The film's most pleasant surprise comes in the form of China Chow. Young actress showed great deal of charm and comic abilities, but, sadly, her appearance of The Big Hit wasn't going to be followed with the filmography worthy of her talent. The Big Hit could have been much better with slightly longer running time; at times film seems rushed and some promising subplots aren't explored - especially the one involving Pam's parents (played by Eliott Gould and Elie Kazan) who seem like they wandered into the frame from some other film's set. Despite those missed opportunities, The Big Hit represents a successful and very entertaining attempt to transplant Hong Kong cinema into Hollywood.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on May 11th 2004)

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