Cheap Killers Review

Dave Foster has reviewed the Region 0 release of Cheap Killers. A very poor film from Naked Killer director Clarence Ford is released on an equally poor disc via the MIA Hong Kong Classics Label.

The Film

Considering the promotional text found on the rear cover of this DVD proclaims the wonder that is producer Wong Jing and director Clarence Ford reuniting after the “groundbreaking” Naked Killer (there words, not mine!) I was not exactly filled with enthusiasm for this release. But, I could never have imagined what I was about to subject myself too upon sitting down to watch this movie.

Cheap Killers is pretty much your standard revenge story, where by the first half of the film sets-up why our main characters have to exact revenge on certain parties while the second half involves them doing just that. The general plot sees two rising killers in the Triad world, Sam Cool (yes, that is his name) and Yat Tiu, who take a rapid descent from their established positions when Yat Tiu cannot resist the charms of a bosses beautiful new wife, Ling. In the process of sleeping with her an inevitable confrontation with her husband occurs, in which blood is shed and Ling becomes Yat Tius’ woman.

Further betrayal is afoot though as it becomes apparent that Ling is as power hungry as her male companions can be which eventually proves Sams’ ongoing distrust of woman and through a sequence of events Sam and Yat Tui find themselves left for dead and in the case of Yat Tui, in a mentally unstable condition. As Sam attempts to regain some form of life while at the same time attempting to cater for Yat Tiu’s mentally detached state he becomes a ‘Cheap Killer’, working for practically nothing as he tries to locate their betrayers to set his plans for revenge in motion. All of which is eventually accomplished through the help of a headstrong young cop who seems to go against all he stands for in the films early stages just so Sam and Yat Tiu can take their revenge.

The idea of a woman that leads to a mans downfall is one that has been seen many times before and writer/producer Wong Jing does not bring anything new to the fray. What he most likely does bring to the picture in this collaboration with director Clarence Ford are several early scenes that use what can only be described as the ‘Playboy’ school of directing where the admittedly gorgeous Kathy Chow (as Ling) is left to do nothing more than either shower semi-naked (in slow motion) or to sit semi-naked refreshing herself by spraying water over her body via a hosepipe (again in slow motion). Not only were these scenes almost completely pointless to the films narrative but they are presented in such a way that they felt extremely tacky, and even slightly humorous, and more than anything put a dent in any hopes the film had of convincing me it was more than it actually is. Other bizarre production choices include the main characters wardrobe whereby Sam and Yat Tui are nearly always seen in pure white and often see-through cotton clothing which is both a terrible choice considering their line of work (and must create some serious cleaning bills!) and surely cannot be used to suggest these characters are good people when they quite clearly are not. This is in fact Cheap Killers biggest downfall in that not a single character is even remotely likeable to the point where you really do not care about the tragedies the supposed anti-heroes Sam and Yat Tui suffer with one possible exception that is very soon forgotten.

Moving past the grievances found in the films production choices you will also find a cast who put in a range of performances from the mediocre to the just about commendable although given the script this is hardly surprising. At the low end of the scale we have yet another poor performance from Stephen Fung who to be fair is given a character whose motivations are so full of plot holes its unreal but he still comes across as someone trying too hard while Sunny Chan (as Yat Tui) is only marginally better in a role that calls for the talent of Jackie Cheung as it essentially duplicates his work seen in Bullet in the Head. The only two performances that even come close to warranting some form of merit are Alex Fong who as Sam Cool manages to survive the picture without any embarrassing moments while Kathy Chow is adequate yet completely wasted given the obvious talent she has as we saw in Beast Cops, a film released the same year as Cheap Killers.

From the contrived script that is littered with plot holes to a cast I genuinely feel for after they went through this the only hints of entertainment to be found within Cheap Killers are some wonderfully over the top scenes of brutality that are actually fairly well directed and hints of humour that are mostly garnered from the ‘its so bad you just have to laugh’ factor!


Although this disc carries a Region 2 logo it is in fact a Region 0 encoded disc.


Presented at the original 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio Cheap Killers is yet another MIA Hong Kong Classics release that lacks Anamorphic Enhancement but worse still contains a transfer that falls down on every other level. The print used is probably the strongest point as it features minimal signs of wear and tear although specks of dirt and the occasional vertical line are visible. It is here though that the problems begin as the overall picture is far too soft resulting in poor detail levels (both foreground and background objects suffer) while colour reproduction is average at best and blacks are rarely black. The faults do not end there as we see motion blurring, pixellation, ghosting and many more signs of digital artifacting present making this disc no better than the earlier (and far cheaper) Hong Kong Region 0 efforts.

Another grievance that we should not be subjected to given the maturity of the DVD format are the permanent, burnt in subtitles. The only saving grace here is that they are actually of a high quality and are very easy to read, although the odd spelling mistake and grammatical errors are present.


The original Cantonese soundtrack is presented in the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound format and is for the most part more than acceptable if uninspired. There really is little to tell when it comes to separation and directional effects as this sounds more like a stereo soundtrack tweaked to make use of the 5.1 set-up rather than a true 5.1 Surround track. Unfortunately there is a sound glitch present at the 21:51 mark where a loud ‘spike’ in the audio can be heard.


Of most interest here is the inclusion of 2-minutes 38-seconds worth of outtakes that presented void of dialogue and instead with music from the film simply show occasions where the actors break into laughter making it worth a look but nothing more. On to the standard extra features then you will find the Original Theatrical Trailer presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen that actually manages to look inferior to the main presentation! A Biography/Filmography section is actually fairly informative and gives information on the four principal actors, producer and director while the Production Gallery merely features 8 screens of film stills.


To put it bluntly Cheap Killers is not a good film making it one for the rental shelves only while this Hong Kong Classics DVD does nothing to help the films chances and does not come recommended even to those who enjoyed the film.


Updated: May 18, 2002

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