Skip to main content

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #202: The Killer

The 1980s and 1990s were a golden age for Hollywood action movies, back when Stallone, Willis, and Schwarzenegger were in their prime. Meanwhile in Asia, you had Hong Kong director John Woo and actor Chow Yun-fat shooting their way into cinematic greatness with action films that would end up influencing directors in the west. The Killer (1989) was not their first collaboration, but it heralded Woo’s arrival with its over the top and at times beautiful violence. Here was an action movie with great acting, depth, and more bullets fired than in most video games.

Like most foreign directors John Woo lost a bit of his spark when he made the move to Hollywood. By the time I was old enough to watch his movies he was making Face/Off, Mission Impossible: II, and Paycheck. Those first two are solid action movies in their own right, but for pure undiluted John Woo you have to go back to the early days, something I had learned through my reading of various movie articles. While browsing at HMV back when I was studying at the University of Sherbrooke I spotted a DVD of The Killer released through the Dragon Dynasty label and I decided to add it to my ever–growing movie collection. Upon first viewing I found the dubbed version made for some rather cheesy dialogue, however I simply have to go for the pun here: the action will blew me away.

There are many movies about assassins going for the mythical one-last-job, but the hitman in The Killer is doing it as a way to wash away one of his sins. During a shooting at a Hong Kong nightclub Ah Jong (Chow Yun-fat) accidentally damages the eyes of a young singer named Jennie (Sally Yeng). Filling a bunch of gangsters with lead is all part of the job, but blinding an innocent woman with a muzzle flash that is something he cannot live it. Since Jenny of course can’t identify him, he befriends her and learns an expensive operation might restore her eyesight. He accepts a job from his bosses in organized crime, while making it clear he is thinking about retirement in the hopes he can walk away in the sunset with a pile of cash big enough to pay for Jennie’s operation.

Of course retiring from a life of killing is not as easy as announcing it to human resources and getting a gold watch. Crime boss Hay Wong Hoi (Shing Fiu-on) double crosses Ah Jong and tries to have him killed. Meanwhile the police are beginning to close in with detective Li Ying (Danny Lee) becoming very interested in Ah Jong’s actions. At first he believes he is just hunting down a very skilled assassin, but to his surprise he is chasing a very skilled assassin who takes the risk of helping a child who has been hit by a stray bullet.

As the cop and the killer cross paths, they begin to respect each other for their sense of morality and honour. In fact in the Hong Kong crime world honour seems to be a rare and appreciated commodity. Fung Sei (Chu Kong), Ah Jong’s friend and contact with the mob is given the task of killing his friend. It is a duty he has to carry out, but he really likes his friend and finds his boss is the one who has no honour.

Everything comes crashing down during a climactic shootout that features all of the John Woo trademarks: white doves symbolizing peace, a church setting, a Mexican standoff, and a ballet of bullets. Woo manages to have his cake and eat it too by shooting this violence beautifully, but also showing violence has consequences. It is incredibly fun to see the killer at work, but you wouldn’t want to do what he does for a living or be in his crosshairs.


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #29: Die Hard

This year I have been going all over the place with this Greatest Movies List, sometimes reviewing the next movie on the list, sometimes reviewing one I saw a few weeks ago. Since I am playing fast and loose with the rules, and since this is the Holiday season, why not skip down the list to what is arguably one of the all time greatest Christmas movies, Die Hard (1988)? Some people like to spend the Christmas season watching an angel get its wings, some like to watch a millionaire learn the meaning of Christmas, I like to watch Alan Rickman read the words “Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.”
After five movies I think even the most die-hard fans (wink) would agree this franchise has gone on for too long, but the first three movies are some of the best action movies of the 80s and 90s. I actually watched them out of order, starting with the second one, followed by the third and eventually making it to the one that started it all at Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve. Watching those movi…