Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

This 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 either.

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 authentic.

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.

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