“He looks determined… without being ruthless. There’s something heroic about him. He doesn’t look like a killer. He comes across so calm… acts like he has a dream… eyes full of passion.”
‘The Killer’, directed by John Woo in 1989, is a Hong Kong action thriller. Chow Yun-fat plays Ah Jong, an assassin recruited by the Triad for his last job. In a gun fight, he accidentally blinds a nightclub singer called Jennie, played by Sally Yeh, then spends the rest of the movie trying to get money to pay for her recovery whilst avoiding the police and the Triad who have ordered his death. The film is a frenetic, high-octane hymn to bullets, spraying blood and masculinity. Yun-fat is an enigmatic and energetic presence, capable of moving between dour solipsism and kinetic action within a single scene, but it is Woo’s symbolic and stylised direction the stands out. Woo combines overt religious iconography with MTV editing and creates a movie that, a little disconcertingly, balances camp excess with philosophical understatement. Highlights of the film are mostly drawn from the inventive action sequences: a shoot-out on a beach in which Jong has to protect a small child, a bloody car chase and the final climactic showdown. There are also moment of humour though, particularly between the police officer who is pursuing Jong, who becomes sympathetic to the assassins desire to protect Jennie. In one scene, the two hold each other hostage in a flat, whilst pretending to the blind Jennie that they are friends. This sums up the film: a sometimes close-to-the-knuckle tension between over the top style and humour and the morose tragedy of Jong’s desire to quit his occupation. Woo somehow reconciles this tension with the sheer force of his directorial technique.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s violent and, at times gory, but it’s also a great character study and a meditation on crime and justice. Watch in a double bill with the movie that inspired it: Jean-Pierre Melville’s ‘ Le Samouraï’.