Why not thirteen?
Marcus (Wil Yun Lee, Torque), is an assassin, hanging out in a lavish Hong Kong hotel room, after a job has gone not as planned. He’s joined by three other assassins—his ex-lover Cordelia (Mercedes Renard, Hitch), the short-tempered Chase, and their mutual employer Eli (Miguel Ferrer, Twin Peaks). They have dinner and swap stories, all while knowing that someone must pay for what went wrong.
What we have here is a suspense/drama, with most of “action” taking place inside the one hotel room, with the four assassins acting relatively cordial, yet still eyeing each other suspiciously, knowing that before the night is over, one of them’s going to have to die. As the assassins share their killing-folks-for-money anecdotes, we get occasional flashbacks to past jobs, which takes camera outside the hotel room and “opens up” the movie beyond its single location setting. It’s a nice balance, as this makes the hotel room scenes not repetitive, but the flashbacks are also not so overdone that you never lose the feeling that these four are “trapped” in that room.
While there are some sporadic gunfights and fistfights, 4 Assassins is more about the characters, their intentions, and the tension among them. The movie’s goal appears to be exploring the assassin lifestyle, and what affects it has on a person—the conflicting morality, the constant watching your back, and the inevitability that the your actions will eventually come back to haunt you. That Marcus’s dilemma as he faces off with his three pals/enemies. He and Cordelia have a history, so there is conflicting emotion there. Eli takes a more pragmatic view of the situation, knowing that there’s a situation that needs to resolved. If it must be resolved with a human life, then so be it. Chase, meanwhile, is full of tension, spending the whole movie looking like he’s about to explode.
The actors do a fine job, keeping the tension at a low boil, never once unnecessarily hamming it up. The standout is Miguel Ferrer, who, as always, is one cool customer. It’s not anything he does, specifically, it’s just that he has such a presence that’s so uniquely his own that he commands the screen.
When does the movie not work? There’s some voiceover narration from Marcus that attempts to do the “hard-boiled pulp” thing, and it’s horribly overwritten. There are other “old-timey” elements to the film, such as the use of peppy old songs to underscore the suspense in an ironic way. I see where they’re going with this, but it comes off as show-offy, and I struggle to believe that it’s something a hard-heartened professional killer would listen to.
No complaints about the DVD presentation, with clean, clear colors and deep black levels. Audio is good as well. As this is a mostly talky movie, the dialogue comes across with clarity. All we’ve got for extras is a short featurette and the theatrical trailer.
While not the greatest crime thriller ever made, 4 Assassins provides some good performances and some interesting food for thought. Check it out if you’re looking for something a little more under the radar.