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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).