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The Legend of a Professional
Year: 2001 "Aim for his crotch."
Anthony Wong and Josie Ho
Director: Billy Chan Wui-Ngai
Cast: Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Josie Ho Chiu-Yi, Law Lan, Law Koon-Lan, Wong Chi-Yeung, Thomas Lam Cho-Fai
The Skinny: Anthony Wong takes a page from Luc Besson's Leon (a.k.a. The Professional) to portray a working class assassin in this sometimes intriguing, but ultimately just so-so attempt at film noir.
Review by
     In the world of cinema, assassins are so much more than just simple hired killers. For the most part, filmic hitmen possess a keen fashion sense, usually sporting dark sunglasses, sleek haircuts, and expensive Armani suits (or nifty leather jackets in some cases). And despite the surgeon general's repeated warnings, a lit cigarette is more than likely hanging from a cinematic killer's mouth. Hollywood isn't the only one to take credit for this phenomenon; Hong Kong filmmakers have been perpetuating this image for years. Everyone from Chow Yun Fat to Andy Lau has helped popularize this hitman archetype. It's a given: movie assassins are the essence of cool.
     But in Billy Chan's The Legend of the Professional, most of these clichés get chucked in favor of presenting the audience with a far more ordinary type of assassin—as if the word "ordinary" could ever describe someone who makes a living killing people. There are few, if any, John Wooisms present in this film. There are no scenes of well-dressed combatants facing off in a deadly game of cat and mouse, each brandishing two guns as they blast bullets at each other in super slo-mo. And instead of John Woo's leading man of choice, Chow Yun-Fat, the so-called Steve McQueen of Hong Kong, we have Anthony Wong, perpetual HK supporting player, who turns in a fine performance as a more blue-collar type of killer. His character Ho does his job, gets his pay, and lives his life, much of which revolves around placating his doting mother (Helena Law-Lan). Though she lives in Vietnam, Ho's mother harangues our protagonist about his love life via the telephone. All in all, Ho's life sounds pretty normal —aside from the killing, of course.
     But things change when Ho's mother decides to pay a visit to Hong Kong. Caught off guard by the news, Ho scrambles to find a suitable stand-in for the make believe girlfriend he's told his mother he's dating. With no other option, Ho makes do with Jenny (Josie Ho), a quirky young punk who's run afoul of some local triads. At this point, the film morphs into a high concept romantic comedy. The plot is clichéd: two people who initially seem to have nothing in common eventually find that they love each other—who hasn't seen that before? But the filmmakers do a pretty good job of developing the relationship between the two unlikely "lovers" without resorting to a paint-by-numbers formula for attraction. Though at first Jenny agrees to the strange arrangement for financial reasons, she soon finds a sense of family with Ho and his mother. May's own past is murky and partially fabricated, but one gets the genuine sense that her family life was less than ideal. And with Ho, we find the cold-blooded killer's heart begrudgingly warmed by the antics of his pretend girlfriend. The two aren't thrown together haphazardly, and their emerging, unspoken bond seems to go deeper than any saccharin pronouncement of "undying love" that a lesser film would probably employ.
     Unfortunately, the film doesn't entirely capitalize on its potential as either a romantic comedy or a crime thriller. To its credit, the film does explore the darker side of the killing business, showing Ho as a lonely man, haunted and remorseful for at least one of his crimes. The film even goes so far as to introduce a secondary character that will play a major role in the film's climax. As a young boy, this character witnessed his father (who was entirely innocent) die at the hands of our protagonist Ho. As a result, the young boy grows up into an unstable, mental defective, who stalks Ho without his knowledge. It doesn't take much to figure out how this movie's going to end. Think about it: a tarnished hero finds a sort of redemption in the love of a young woman only to be dogged by his past sins. You do the math. Despite its innovations, The Legend of the Professional becomes the typical "Gotta do one last job before retiring!" plotline that audiences have seen time and again.
     Part of what derails The Legend of the Professional is its decision to include an unnecessary twist. Though this "surprise" in no way changes Ho's motivation, it does negate much of what came before, thereby lessening the impact of the final scene. It's not a Sixth Sense or Usual Suspects type shock—instead, think Victoria Principal finding Patrick Duffy in the shower, and you'll have some idea of what I'm talking about (provided you know what that hint means). Thanks to that ridiculous twist—and a predictable downbeat finale—the film ultimately comes across as a botched attempt at film noir. With capable performances by Anthony Wong and Josie Ho, The Legend of the Professional could have been so much more than what it is: a just okay, sometimes downright amateurish endeavor. (Calvin McMillin 2003)
Notes: • The plot synopsis on the DVD's back cover blurb isn't even remotely close to the film's storyline.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Laser
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen