The Killer (1989)

Rating: B

Dir: John Woo
Star: Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh, Chu Kong

When I re-read the original review (below), I thought I’d see how the film looks after fifteen years watching HK cinema, rather than as the absolute beginner I was then. Truth be told, much still rings true, though I can see past the action and appreciate the acting of Chow, Lee and, often overlooked, Kong in his role as the best friend, struggling to do the right thing. Yet, outside these excellent characterizations, Woo doesn’t seem to care much. Sally Yeh, playing the nightclub singer blinded by hitman Jeff (Chow), has little chance to develop her role, and the villainous Wong (Shing Fui On), Jeff’s former employer, now intent on killing him, is a pantomime bad guy, all yelling and frothing at the mouth.

As noted first time round, occasional notes remain jarring, not helped by poor music which seems to come from another film entirely – particularly the awful CantoPop songs. [I also saw, with some amusement, that when taking the girl who’d been shot to get help, the sign reads ‘Scared [sic] Heart Hospital’!] You can guess it’s not my favourite Woo. It still, however, kicks heavy-duty ass, not least the monumental church shootout at the finale, which remains one of the best pieces of chaotic bullet ballet ever filmed. The movie pulls you one way, then another, with effortless ease, and contains one of the most heart-rending scenes in any action flick ever, as Jeff and Sally crawl desperately towards each other.

Even attempting a moment like that, immediately after a ferocious gun-battle, takes absolute guts; pulling it off, as Woo does, is enough to make you forgive all the film’s weaknesses, and more. Chow’s performance is equally phenomenal, with every grimace conveying the inner turmoil and absolute dedication Jeff feels to his cause. We can only pray he gets a chance to deliver such intensity in his Hollywood films some day.

What we wrote then [7] – Trailers for this were shown at Shock 4 & Black Sunday 3, piquing my curiosity enough to go and see this Hong Kong cop thriller about an assassin (Chow) who goes on one last job to pay for an operation to salvage the sight of a cute singer, whom he accidentally blinded in a gun-battle. Sweet, huh? However, 130, count ’em, people get killed – this excludes those beaten up, blown up, crashed up, stabbed and the unfortunate bystander who suffers a fatal coronary! In between these bursts of beautifully portrayed ultra-violence, are saccharine-sweet interludes straight out of Mills and Boon which give it all a surreal air and were, to this novice, hysterically funny. Given the high body count, it has a very coy attitude to nudity – a girl is shot in the chest and taken to hospital where the doctor staunches the wound by sticking the bandage down her dress… 7/10