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Fever Pitch

A cool assassin heats up Hong Kong crime orgy

By Michael S. Gant

The existentially conflicted assassin--paid to kill but nagged by doubts!--is a nearly irresistible subject for filmmakers. Beyond Hypothermia, a Hong Kong action film (with Korean settings and production money) by John Woo assistant Patrick Leung, ups the ante by focusing on a female killer who makes La Femme Nikita look like Mother Teresa. Wu Chin Lin (Eat Drink Man Woman) plays the ultimate crime-land downsizer, picking off her victims with a high-powered rifle.

Outwardly cold (figuratively and literally--her body temperature is lower than normal), she is burning up inside with angst. Forced to move every three months, forbidden by her handler to have her photograph taken, Lin's assassin pines for a childhood she can't remember, for some shred of identity to call her own--"I don't know who I am," she sighs. Her only measure of peace comes in the arms of a local noodle cook (Lau Ching Wan), but fate, in the form of a revenge-besotted young hood (Han Sang Woo), intervenes. Hit people never get to retire.

The romance between Lin and Wan is rather sweet and convincing, particularly when he takes her to a roof top for a ride on the swing she never got as a kid (the scene recalls a plaintive moment in Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru). But it is the action sequences that fuel Beyond Hypothermia. From the bravura opening sequence (Lin nails her man from a perch in a refrigerated warehouse, and her ejected bullet casing steams a hole in a block of ice) to the berserk amor fou ending, Leung proves himself an apt pupil of Woo's take-no-prisoners style.

The action is swathed in a cold blue light punctuated by swift doses of color: a pair of red high-heeled shoes, a yellow fireball from an exploding car, splatters of blood on a child's cotton candy. Whenever the machinations of the plot threaten to collapse under their own weight, the sheer kinetics of Leung's set pieces rescue the film. The climactic blood bath--Bonnie and Clyde on steroids--is a showdown fought with automatic weapons and careening cars that escalates to a crazed crescendo that is all at once breath-stopping, laughably absurd and surprisingly touching. By the time it finally comes to rest, Beyond Hypothermia has reached a fever pitch that even ice packs couldn't cool down.

Beyond Hypothermia (Unrated; 94 min.), directed by Parick Leung written by Roy Szeto and starring Wu Chin Lin and Lau Ching Wan.

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