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The Killer

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Ever since Jean Pierre Melville had a nameless assassin take on the world in "Le Samouri", action movies have found that a mixture of laconic cool and ultra violence, preferably dealt out by a kind hearted 'cleaner' is a top formula box office success.

But for every "Leon: The Professional" there's an "Assassins", and whilst Charlize Theron might've made a credible hit woman in "Two Days In The Valley", Bridget Fonda was a comparative lightweight in the unconvincing remake of Luc Besson's "Nikita".

Before all these, a struggling director by the name of John Woo enlisted the help of popular television actor Chow Yun Fat, and together they made the definitive hit-man film; a story about an assassin indebt to the Triads, annihilating big time scumbags by the roomful (breathtakingly captured in the movie's opening scene).

John Chow (Yun Fat) tries to save the life of an innocent singer called Jennie (Yeh) who's caught up the crossfire, he takes a bullet in the back, but is forced to ice another gangster right in front of Jennie's face; the shot blasts past her eyes damaging her retina, Chow Yun Fat soon discovers that unless Jennie undergoes specialist surgery she'll lose her sight forever...

So the man decides to do one last job (always a prerequisite for chaos) in order to pay for the operation. Cue phenomenal corruption, frenzied gun battles and an increasingly complex relationship between the pursuer (Danny Lee as an obsessive cop) and the pursued; you can tell this is where Michael Mann got his idea for "L.A Takedown" / "Heat".

Cult director John Woo had garnered a strong following with the violent story of Triad gang-banger Mark Gor (Fat) in 'A Better Tomorrow' and, thus, it was time to develop and improve upon this evocative sub genre; one which saw the be-suited anti-hero tool up with two guns and face off against those who sought to exploit the innocent, a style of Hong Kong moviemaking that was based upon the ethics of old morality tales, selfless acts of valour and sporadic ultra violence...

This was the genre that came to be known as Heroic Bloodshed. "The Killer" is occasionally overlooked as a 120 minute shootout, a melodramatic comic book-esque exploration of violence. Personally, I consider "The Killer" to be a wonderfully constructed movie with one of the most emotionally charged endings in modern cinema.

Ostensibly a study of genre and how our expectations of a character seem na´ve when placed against a realistic backdrop of crime and political machinations, a movie which compares and contrasts the life of a cop and the life of a killer, a morality tale which serves to emphasise the frustrating bureaucracy of the justice system, whilst highlighting the way in which a man who kills for money, has a greater sense of humanity than those who pay him.

Verdict?

The first time I saw this movie, I was completely blown away by it's technical prowess and directorial brilliance. The choreography of the shootouts, not to mention the moving pathos of Chow Yun Fat's performance, made the likes of everything that had ever come before it, seem slow and vaguely pretentious in comparison. It was almost as if we'd been cheated out of decent action movies for all this time and although, you could argue, that the script isn't up to much, there's no denying the potency of exchanges between Lee and Fat, not to mention the brooding emotions of compassion and guilt which Chow feels towards Maggie (as she doesn't know he's the guy who caused her sight to fade).

'The Killer' works on many levels: as a straight action movie; it's better than a million 'Die Hards'. For it's gritty realism, it surpasses it's better know successor; the glossy but fantastical 'Hard Boiled'. And the method acting techniques are also visible and markedly different: for Chow Yun Fat goes against the familiar archetypes of Hong Kong cinema (which sometimes rely upon melodrama and empathic expression) and gives a measured, thoughtful and relatively laid-back performance.

A movie which established John Woo as a serious director, whilst honouring Chow Yun Fat with the much deserved mantle of 'Coolest Actor In The World'. It'd be almost 10 years before Chow would come over to America to film 'The Replacement Killers' with Mira Sorvino and go onto do movies like 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon', 'King's Ransom' etc. But in those years between 1987 and 93 colonial Hong Kong was home to different kind of revolutionary: the new, Man With No Name who always had a name with fans...Chow Yun Fat, Yun Fat Chow: we salute you!

Notice any mistakes? Review

Strengths: Excellent cinematography. Good performance by Chow Yun Fat.

An honest look at corruption: well written and directed by John Woo.

Weaknesses? A little too violent perhaps? ;)

Our rating: 9.5 out of 10


Review Written by Kashif Ahmed:  Contact  |  More Reviews by Kashif Ahmed
The Killer