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The Killer

Hong Kong 1989
produced by
Tsui Hark for Film Workshop, Golden Princess, Magnum Entertainment
directed by John Woo
starring Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee (= Li Hsiu-Hsien), Sally Yeh, Kong Chu, Kenneth Tsang, Shing Fui-On, Yip Wing-Cho, Yee Fan Wai, Barry Wong, Parkman Wong, Ng Siu-Hung, Yeung Sing, Ngan Siu Hung, Wong Kwong Leung
written by John Woo, music by Lowell Lo, stunt coordinators: Ching Siu-Tung, Lau Chi-Ho

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Jeffrey (Chow Yun-Fat) is a killer with a conscience, he shoots only those he gets paid for - because in his book they have probably deservved it anyways - but tries to avoid letting harm come to innocent bystanders and the like. So when during one of his hits young barsinger Jenny (Sally Yeh) accidently gets in the way and is blinded by his explosive bullets being fired right next to her eyes, he is almost eaten up by remorse - so much so that he thinks about quitting his job. Thenn though he befriends the girl, and they even become lovers ... so he decides to accept one last hit to earn enough money to pay Jenny an eye operation ... even if that would mean that she would be able to identify him as the man who blinded her ... and as a ruthless killer.

Jeffrey's last hit as such goes ok, but when he wants to make his getaway, he runs into a virtual army of gunmen he has to gun down ... and in the process a little girl is seriously wounded. And what's more, the diversion of the shoot-out has allowed cop Li (Danny Lee) to catch up with him ... but even if that means that he can't shake the cop on his trail, Jeffrey picks up the little girl and takes her to the nearest hospital. Only then does he make his getaway, but officer Li got a good look at him ...

And while Jeffrey sees himself threatened by the very men who have hired him, and cannot even be sure if his best friend Fung (Kong Chu) who always sets him up for the hits, has betrayed him, Li comes up with a few conclusions of his own, and soon figures that the killer who has blinded (but not killed) Jenny and the man who has brought the little girl to the hospital must be one and the same person ... the killer with a conscience. and furthermore, this man might even be Jenny's boyfriend ... and how right he is ...

Soon enough, Li and Jeffrey clash at Jenny's appartment, but both showing consideratin for innocent Jenny, the situation does not escalate, and Jeffrey makes a slick getaway. Li now tries to convince Jenny that her boyfriend is a wanted man, and she even agrees to be bait in a trap the cops set up for him, but not only does she decide to give the trap away in the very last minute, Jeffrey has also taken a few precautions of his own, and in the end, Li is left without Jeffrey ... and even without his bait ...

Eventually, Li - by now suspended from the force but still hot on the case - catches up with Jeffrey once more, but the situation seems to end in stalemate, since Jeffrey won't let Li arrest him, while Li doesn't want to shoot him dead - and Jeffrey has no desire to shoot Li dead either ... and eventually, a large army of killers catches up with Jeffrey, and all of a sudden, Li finds himself being forced to join forces with the man he has just tried to arrest. Eventually, the two men even become something like friends ...

The whole thing culminates in a long series of shootouts, which have the cop and the killer teamed up to protect Jenny, and during which Jeffrey even has to shoot his best friend Fung - who hasn't betrayed him after all, but who begs for a mercy killing rather than having to slowly die from his multiple injuries. In the end though, Li and Jeffrey have mowed down th enemy forces, but ultimately both Jeffrey and Jenny lose their lives. Besides Li, only Weng, the gangsterboss behind the whole thing survive, and Weng tries to take the easy way out, giving himself up to the authorities and trusting in his team of laywers ... but in a fit of rage, Li executes him on the spot, with his colleagues watching in terror ...

 

Despite being hardly the first contract killer film, The Killer is something like the mother of all contract killer films, a genre of only marginal importance everywhere else but extremely popular in Hong Kong. Mainly that's of course thanks to John Woo's breathtaking directorial style, that's a cross between Chang Cheh and Sam Peckinpah without ever for a minute being derivative, and that has really come to full bloom in this one. Rarely before or since have looked shoot-outs so balletic without eing ridiculous, and were - despite each shoot-out being an elaborate set-piece of its own - so well integrated into the main narrative. The story itself is not without a fair share of kitsch, and - seen from a very sober point of view - the killer with a conscience-angle of the story is not all that believable, but somehow, John Woo manages to pull it off anyways.

In all, quite possibly John Woo's very best film, and one of the best Hong Kong geatures of its time as well. It's just a pity that John Woo had to soon leave for Hollywood to leave the greatness of films like this behind to make well-crafted but meaningless action flicks (like Mission Impossible 2 or Windtalkers).

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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directed by
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written by
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