What was with all those comedies about lovable hit-men in the Nineties? In the same mould as 2 Days in the Valley (1996), Grosse Point Blank (1997), 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag (1997) and arguably even Leon (1994), The Big Hit cast a post-Boogie Nights (1997) Mark Wahlberg as Melvin Smiley, a boyishly handsome mob assassin who just wants to be loved. To that end after each kill he hands his hard-earned cash to his fiancé Pam (Christina Applegate) and mistress Chantel (Lela Rochon) even though it is obvious both women are scamming him. Chantel has another man on the side and Pam is paying off her parents' debts. Broke and desperate, Melvin reluctantly signs up for a caper hatched by unhinged friend and fellow hit-man Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips) in which they kidnap Keiko (China Chow), sexy schoolgirl daughter of Japanese film producer Jiro Nishi (Sab Shimono), for ransom. What these dummies don't know is that not only is Jiro broke, after losing millions on a vanity project starring himself, but also best friends with their boss, mobster Paris (Avery Brooks) who happens to be Keiko's godfather. Inevitably, Cisco pulls a double-cross and lets Melvin take the blame. With a mob army on his tail, Melvin struggles to keep Keiko hidden away from Pam and her parents Jeanne (Lainie Kazan) and Morton Shulman (Elliott Gould) while they visit his house.
One pervading trend in Hollywood in the Nineties was the mass outbreak of Tarantino-itis as screenwriters cranked out would-be hip crime capers attempting to mimic Pulp Fiction (1994). Another was the belated awareness of the wealth of talented filmmakers in Hong Kong. At the time censorship restrictions imposed by mainland China were a big concern among many of the leading lights of the HK New Wave. Hence the likes of John Woo, Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, Ching Siu-Tung and Ronny Yu took a shot at a Hollywood career with varying results, more often than not via a dumb but accessible to mainstream tastes action vehicle for Jean-Claude Van Damme, with varying degrees of success. Taking a more unorthodox route with The Big Hit was Kirk Wong. Wong's edgy, uncompromising vision in films such as his exceptional crime thrillers The Club (1981) and Organized Crime & Triad Bureau (1994), dystopian cyber-punk kung fu shocker Health Warning (1983) and atypically grim Jackie Chan vehicle Crime Story (1993) alienated him from the HK film mainstream. In the latter case he wound up getting fired by his star. While one would expect his gritty approach to crime thrillers would translate well to western tastes, Wong instead concocted a crazed cocktail of comedy, sadism, action and romance, a mix ironically mainstream for a Hong Kong audience yet too jarring and bizarre for the multiplex crowd. It is worth noting the film did earn back twice its budget but still proved the end for Kirk Wong rather than the expected new beginning although rumour has it he is preparing a comeback.
Co-produced by John Woo, Terence Chang and surprisingly Wesley Snipes, the film was scripted by Ben Ramsey. An actor and director in his own right, Ramsey continued making outlandish crime comedies with indie efforts Love and a Bullet (2002) and Blood and Bone (2009). He also penned the dire Dragonball: Evolution (2009) earning the enmity of anime fans the world over. The Big Hit dearly wants to be True Romance (1993) but has a slippery grip on its whiplash tonal shifts. Wong stages acrobatic action and outrageous gunplay in the Hong Kong style (the opening set-piece where Wahlberg bungee-jumps from an exploding building is impressively bonkers) yet panders to the same lame wise-guy swagger, racism, sexism and casual sadism that marred dozens of Tarantino clones throughout the decade. Typically, a wacky comedy moment follows a brutal stabbing though the confused concept of an unrepentant killer who only wants to be loved proves less shocking than the shrill sit-com caricatures portrayed by Lainie Kazan and Elliot Gould. Pam's parents are drawn as selfish, racist, money-grubbing goons victimizing poor put-upon Melvin in scenes that are borderline anti-Semitic. As if the film were not misguided enough, Melvin initially finds Keiko fending off a would-be rapist whereupon he shoots her preppy boyfriend dead. Keiko adjusts to her traumatic situation surprisingly well. Mere moments later she is flirting with Melvin whilst helping him cook a kosher meal for Pam's parents! Model and actress China Chow is actually a sassy and appealing presence here while Wahlberg is as engaging as only he could be in a wholly ridiculous role. A hyper-manic Lou Diamond Phillips also relishes one of his better late career roles but the film's attempts to be seem as wacky as possible are hit (the phoned ransom demand interrupts Jiro's ritual suicide attempt whilst crooning opera!) and miss (the running gag about Bokeem Woodbine being an obsessive masturbator). On the other hand the ongoing joke about Melvin's overdue video rental that turns out to be King Kong Lives (1986) is almost weird enough to be funny.