is a film that I found difficult to break down. I must
preface this by saying it is probably my favorite film
of all time, but the reasons for this do not
necessarily crystallize themselves as clearly in my
mind as I would hope. I first saw 'The Killer' back in
1993, and have viewed it at least a dozen times since
then. As such, my reverence for the film has not waned
but only recently have I begun to understand why I
cherish this film so much as to put it in words.
Chow Yun-Fat plays the part of Jeffery Chow, A hired
assassin who is at the top his game. On a particular
assignment, Jeffery kills, shoots, murderers numerous
individuals in his usual efficient manner, but he
accidentally blinds the lounge singer Jennie (Sally
Yeh). Jeffery, feels completely responsible for the
damage he's done to Jennie and vows to help restore
her sight. He also falls in love with Jennie, as she
becomes increasingly dependent on Jeffery.
A Killer with the heart of gold and a pathetic,
helpless female. Not too terribly original there.
There's also Inspector Lee (Danny Yee). The renegade,
tough cop who doesn't play by the rules. He
has a meddlesome, politically ambitious boss, and a
loyal, constantly stressed out partner. Inspector Li
feels something about this killer, something he can't
quite put his finger on, but he feels he's the one to
bring this guy down.
Also, not a very original or fresh character there
Sydney is Jeffery's physically disabled
mentor who we are to assume taught Jeffery most of
what he knows. He also lines up Jeffery with his jobs.
They have what is obviously a very deep friendship.
Getting a little better there.
Quickly now, Jeffery is bound to do one last job. He
requests an inordinate amount of money because it is
what he needs to fix Jennie's eyes. The job goes
flawlessly, but Jeffery is betrayed and he must spend
the rest of the movie avoiding cops, other assassins,
wrestling with new loyalties, coming to term with
betrayals all the while dragging the 120 pound blind
weight with him along the way.
There are a number of things that make this story
work. First is Chow. He is one the few film actors who
possess that unknown, untouchable quality known as
screen presence. When he is on the screen, he commands
your attention. Even our greatest actors don't
necessarily posses this attribute. Clint Eastwood has
it, Morgan Freeman has it to an extent, Sean Connery
is another. The ability to make you focus on their
actions. The pain that Jeffery feels when he confronts
the one who him betrayed is very real and very
This leads to what is probably the cornerstone of the
film, the sense of loyalty and honor. Friendship and
loyalty are above all. A man keeps his word, a man is
true to his friends, A man is willing die for his
honor, A man accepts his responsibility. Anything less
makes life not worth living. This whole concept was
quite stunning to me because it strayed from the
standard action film mantra of Good guy vs. Bad guy to
a more unique stance of the honorable against the
dishonorable. In an attempt not too give away any key
details of the film, there are numerous instances
where honor and dishonor are played between Jeffrey,
Inspector Li, Sydney and the main protagonist, Johnny
Weng. This gives the film several layers of depth
that's rarely seen in films of this genre.
And of the genre, I've spoke of the all the underlying
subtext and haven't touched on what this movie REALLY
is, which is an action film. John Woo isn't famous for
that other stuff I rambled on and on about, he's known
as an action director and this one does not
disappoint. Bullets fly, bullets pierce heads, backs
and shoulders, people die in wave after wave and they
always seem to be wearing white at the time. This
flick apparently gave birth to the whole 'two handed
gun' phenomena which is so prevalent in action films
today. Jeffrey holding a gun is merely an extension of
his hand, and even if you think he doesn't see you, he
does sees and you are dead. He slides across the
floor, he jumps over tables, he shoots over his
shoulder, he shoots behind his back. The action is
fast and furious and unrelenting.
So I loved this movie and I recommend it heartily, but
I must say I'm not necessarily a John Woo fan as it
were. I probably did myself a disservice as this was
the first John Woo film I'd ever seen and as such I
saw what I consider his best film. A Better Tomorrow
was a good movie though it pales in comparison to the
The Killer, Hard Boiled was definitely action packed,
but lacked the depth of this film, and most of Mr.
Woo's American films (Face
Off being the possible exception) have been
lukewarm at best.
Nonetheless, I recommend this film, preferably in it's
original language, subtitled version (Unless you speak
Chinese of course) as the dubbed version loses a
little in the translation.