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.

Comments

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 - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…