FULLTIME KILLER. You won’t be able to take your eyes off the action scenes

What to do when professional killers are portrayed as positive characters but don’t garner our sympathy?

Krzysztof Walecki

28 November 2023

Watching movies like “Leon: The Professional,” “Killing for Breakfast,” or “The Killer,” one might think that the profession of a hired killer is not only lucrative but also incredibly easy. You get a job, a pile of cash, and all the client requires is for the job to be done. Preparations, choosing weapons, location, and method – that’s your domain. So, what’s there to worry about? I’ll add something else – watching the aforementioned films might lead one to the conclusion that a “killer” is a nice, honorable, and normal (sic!) guy. There is also the other category – killers for hire, for whom rules don’t matter, only money does, and sometimes not even that, but the thrill and emotions during the execution of successive contracts. Feelings towards the first and the second are obvious: we cheer for the good ones and admire them, while condemning the bad ones and wishing for their deaths to be loud and spectacular. But what to do when professional killers are portrayed as positive characters but don’t garner our sympathy? How should we react to such protagonists and their actions? These questions occurred to me during the screening of “Fulltime Killer.”

The film tells the story of the rivalry between two professional killers who have more differences than similarities. ‘O’ is a cool professional who does his job without emotions; if he has to kill someone, that person will undoubtedly die, and if there’s someone who could recognize him – they’ll die too. Those are the rules of the game, and ‘O’ accepts them. The killer known as Tok is entirely different: he’s a maniac who loves turning assignments into real spectacles, inspired by famous movies (at the beginning of the film, there’s a scene where Tok demolishes a police station, finishing off the cops there with a shotgun hidden in flowers – it’s easy to guess which movies he drew inspiration from), of which he is a fan. He wants to be number 1, so he must get rid of ‘O.’ This rivalry strongly resembles that in Richard Donner’s film “Assassins”; there’s even a woman who eventually comes between the two protagonists. However, what distinguishes both films is this moral ambiguity: in Donner’s picture, Stallone was the good guy, and Banderas was the bad guy. Here, both Tok and ‘O’ are not easy to classify; while we seem to be on ‘O’s side, when he kills his school friend, we realize that he has no scruples. Tok is similar – an exceptionally cruel character (if necessary, he’ll kill a woman) and crazy, but also capable of deeper feelings and, in his own way, amusing. Black and white are mixed, but what we get is far from gray.

“Fulltime Killer” is not only an exploration (or perhaps just a diversification) of the psychological images of two murderers. It also features brilliantly staged shooting scenes; I’ve probably only seen better ones in John Woo’s films. They are superbly directed and edited, and when played in slow motion, they showcase the precision with which they were executed. There are two outstanding scenes: the first, in which Tok, wearing a red leather jacket and a mask resembling the head of one of the American presidents (a clear reference to “Face/Off”), performs an execution with a shotgun, is shot in slow motion with opera music in the background – a true masterpiece in my opinion. The second, parts of which are also slowed down, takes place during an ambush on ‘O,’ during which he escapes with a girl – bullets whiz, characters jump from floor to floor, and before the police can stop them, they must deal with “dancing” fire hoses – a gem!

Scenes are scenes, but the question still remains unanswered. So, did I enjoy the film despite such prominent and rather negative (and sometimes repulsive) characters? I think so. We’ve become accustomed to the idea that a professional killer is either very bad or “Leon-like” – a cool guy, helpful when needed, takes care of his family, and won’t betray or kill his friends. Here, it’s different – the main antagonists, if necessary, will kill anyone, sometimes even with a smile on their faces. You don’t have to like it, and indeed, there were moments when I hoped both of them would stumble. However, excellent dialogues and a good dose of humor, as well as, as I mentioned, action scenes that you simply can’t take your eyes off, save the whole thing. And the fact that blood flows in streams and the main characters aren’t angels? Well, no one said a professional killer has to have wings…