The Killer

Year 1989

Chow Yun Fat   as  Ah Jong
Danny Lee as Inspector Li Ying  
Sally Yeh   as Jenny
Chu Kong as Fung Sei
Tsang Kong as Sgt. Tsang Yeh
Shing Fui On as Wong Hoi
Director - John Woo
Screenwriter - John Woo

The Killer is in the At Least Once Category not because has that great of plot or is well believable but rather because it is a little deeper than most mob movies and because of the John Woo signatures that are associated with this movie. Now I haven't seen his movie A Better Tomorrow so I can't tell you if that movie is the inception of the John Woo style of directing but from what I gather it's with this movie, The Killer, that his signature style was perfected.

The movie is about a gun for hire, Ah Jong (Chow Yun Fat), who makes a mistake on a contract that results in damage to the eyes of an innocent bystander. Ah Jong, a man with a concience and code of ethics, wants to right his wrong and not be responsible for this kind of collateral damage again. He wants to do (everybody together now!) one more job and get out. We all know how THAT'S going to work out for him.

Along the way he meets police Inspector Li Ying (Danny Lee) and of course they become friends so you got the buddy thing going, too. Then there's the girl who's slowly going blind, Jenny (Sally Yeh), who is innocent and trusting. Yeah, it's pure schmaltz.

There are some things that make this movie worthwhile, however. The limits of loyalty and friendship are examined. The importance of honor and a person's word are discussed. And then there're the gunfights.

The whole friendship and honor thing is old news, but that doesn't make it less important today than it was thousands of years ago. Ah Jong, his immediate boss and friend within the Triad Fung Sei (Chu Kong), and Li Ying are men of honor. The current boss of the Triad, Wong Hoi (Shing Fui On), isn't. In fact he thinks that adherence to a code of honor and loyalty makes a person no better than a dog.

As Li Ying tracks down Ah Jong, Li Ying begins to understand and appreciate the assassin for his mettle.

How quaint and cozy.

What makes this movie special are the John Woo touches. He uses slow motion not just for the shoot 'em up scenes. He introduces the violence with slow motion as well. Today, everybody does it. But back then, John Woo showed how it was done.

He also uses freeze frames to end a scene which can be distracting. And he uses fade-outs to change location and points of view, not just to show the passing of time. This last was quite effective.

John Woo credits Martin Scorcese, Sam Peckinpah, Stanley Kubrick, and especially Jean-Pierre Melville as his directorial influences. Scorcese for his slow motion and camera angles, Peckinpah for his edits and poetic violence, Kubrick for his lighting, and Melville for his vision and movie construction. In fact, it's been written that Woo's jumping off point for The Killer was Melville's movie Le Samourai.

So what are these John Woo touches? Well, there's the thirty round six-shooter. Bullets aren't limitless but no one gets shot once, they got shot at least a half-dozen times. So the number of bullets in a gun needs to be multiplied by six.

There's the leaping sideways while firing, which is a John Woo original. How anyone can hit a target like this baffles me, but in this movie John Woo makes you believe that they can. The coefficient of friction is different with John Woo. People slide on their knees, and accurately fire their guns at targets, until they get to cover. They never stop before they reach cover and never bump into their cover. It's ballet.

White doves in a church, and all of the symbolism they can carry, also belong to John Woo.

Then there's the multiple angle of a shooter as he fires his weapon. There are multiple cuts, including a close up of the shooter, for the simplest firing of a gun. That's a John Woo original.

Suffice it to say that John Woo influenced not only mob/Triad movies but nearly every action movie that came after him. Without John Woo leading the way there'd be no crazy angles of The Matrix or the personal aspect of Infernal Affairs.

A couple of side notes. First, Sally Yeh is a real singer with a singing career. Who knew? Second, the Dragon Boat Races shown in the movie are real. They're also fun to watch. There are two different sized boats and it's very amateurish which is part of its charm. I guess some poet named Qu Yuan who taught individual liberty killed himself by drowing over two thousand years ago. To commemorate this heroic act, every year, a day is set aside for the Dragon Boat Races. It's a China thing and the irony to me is that someone who preached individual freedom is being acknowledged by a Communist government.

No blasphemy, profanity, or nudity. Lots of deaths, though. Probably more than 100. You should watch it for its influence on film making, but DO expect to have a good time doing it. Oh, and if you can handle it, watch it with the language in Macau and with English subtitles. The voices sound too hokey otherwise.

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