On DVD: American Mullet, Full Time Killer
by dave heaton, j.d. lafrance
"People love to talk about the mullet, but who is talking to the people with the mullet cut?" asks the narrator at the beginning of American Mullet, an hour-long look at the infamous mullet haircut. That hairstyle-short on top and long in the back-is the butt of many jokes and the object of hundreds of tongue-in-cheek web sites, yet this documentary is based on more than just cheap jokes at the expense of mullet wearers. The filmmakers do get negative opinions of the hairstyle from people on the street, hairstylists, and the creators of one of the mullet-related web sites. Yet the bulk of the film is given to the filmmakers traveling around the country interviewing people with mullets. And as easy as it is to laught at such a ridiculous-looking hairstyle, American Mullet introduces you to a diverse array of interesting and offbeat mullet-wearers who together form an argument for the mullet as a statement of rebellion, a mark of the non-conformist.
While the heavy metal-loving DJ at a country bar, the Billy Ray Cyrus impersonator, and the people interviewed at the auto racing track might be exactly who you expect to be sporting a mullet, the film doesn't mock them at all, instead revealing them as colorful people with unique personalities. Yet the filmmakers also focus on less stereotypical eccentrics with mullets, like a pink-mulleted punk rock girl. And perhaps most interestingly, looks at the place of the mullet in various cultures, including lesbians, Native Americans, and Mexican men. All of these are dealt with in depth, especially the role of the mullet in the lesbian community. The film makes the case that this hairstyle cuts across cultures, and expresses different things to different communities. And there are several people in the film who give rather articulate defenses of the mullet, as an extreme expression of non-conformity. Near the end of the film a series of speakers give a rather forceful argument for long hair as a rebellious action. One the more riveting comments come from a mullet-wearing man who looks like what your average suburban-ite might think of as "white trash," when he says, "If you know where you came from, you can do anything you want to do…people look at people with all the tattoos or with the wacked hairstyles and they think they're the crazy ones. Actually the dude that's going down the street with the Vitalis in his hair, and he's got the nice neat haircut and he's wearing the three-piece suit…that's the guy that's scared, he's the one that's too afraid to express himself or be different…because he's worried what everyone's gonna say about him."
Ultimately American Mullet is both an entertaining, often humorous look at an unconventional hairstyle and a sociological study, a look at the messages people give off with their appearance. More than anything, the film might make you think a little more seriously about hair and why you feel the way you do about particular styles. And in the ending credits, you get to see the director, Jennifer Arnold, getting her hair cut into a mullet…so who knows, maybe after watching this film you might want to join her.
O (Takashi Sorimachi) and Tok (Andy Lau) are two professional assassins on opposite ends of the spectrum. Both men introduce themselves as if they're applying for a personal ad (Tok: "I like watching movies. Especially action movies.") O is so slick and quick that he can kill three guys in a crowded railway station in broad daylight and elude the police. Tok is a flashy show-off who's not afraid to walk into a police station with a shotgun disguised as a large bouquet of flowers only to kill his target with a bunch of grenades. Caught in the middle is Chin (Kelly Lin), a beautiful Taiwanese woman who works at a Japanese video store in Hong Kong. She cleans O's apartment and dates Tok. Added to the mix is Lee (Simon Yam), the hard-boiled cop obsessed with bringing both men to justice.
Fulltime Killer is obsessed with movies. Tok is a fan of action movies but only ones that are "not boring and have fresh ideas," which is a playful poke at its own recycling of ideas and images from other movies. From Desperado (1995) to Point Break (1991), Killer references a wide variety of action films. Some, like Tok training Chin how to fire a sniper rifle (a la The Professional) are more obvious, others, like a cleaning woman playfully tidying up O's apartment (a la Chungking Express), are more subtle.
However, the most obvious and prominent filmmaker Killer references is John Woo. Action sequences are shot in beautiful slow motion and hitmen shoot with guns in each hand much in the same fashion as Woo's legendary Hong Kong action films. Specifically, the Tok-O-Chin triangle is reminiscent of The Killer (1989), which seems like the template for this film.
The print of Fulltime Killer is a tad on the grainy side but this is probably due to the limitations of the film stock used rather than a substandard transfer. The white subtitles are difficult to read when white also appears on screen which gets annoying at times.
Fulltime Killer starts off as a playful quotation machine of other action movies but as it progresses, the film develops into a bitter story of personal honour. While not as clever as Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai's previous film, The Mission (1999), Killer features some impressively staged action sequences that should thrill fans of Hong Kong action films.
(For further information, check out the official website)