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The Killer

tn_thekillerwoozoneAs a guy specializing in writing about action movies, sometimes I worry I’m documenting an ancient art form. I romanticize a time when action movies were a rite of passage, a father-son bonding tradition and a major passion for many young people, especially males, but it seems like the youth of today aren’t necessarily interested in this shit. And if they don’t grow up on it then they’re never gonna have that moment when they get a little older and become aware of the other powerful strains of it from around the world.

That makes me sad because whatever they’re watching instead cannot possibly match the rush of joy I got when I saw my first John Woo movie – which was THE KILLER – or each time I revisit his classics now. At the time there was nothing else like it. Somehow that seems even more true today.

The things that are greatest about THE KILLER might be the things that would seem silliest to younger people: the unabashed style and the the unbridled, unironic emotion. I remember people who came up a few years after the era when Hong Kong action cinema was the coolest thing going – people who are old and decrepit now – who would make jokes about John Woo’s doves. “Ha ha, two pistols, and some doves, am I right? Ha ha, I know about a trademark, I have defeated him.”

Well, THE KILLER is gonna be way too much for anybody like that. And maybe I gotta face that they just don’t deserve THE KILLER. The cards are laid on the table in the opening, when Chow Yun-Fat as Ah Jong (or “Jeff Chow,” according to the credits) meets with his Triad manager Fung Sei (Paul Chu Kong) in an empty church at night. That happens in all action movies, but this church is lit with what must be a thousand candles, and there are doves and pigeons flying around, landing on the cross.

“Do you believe in all this?” Fung asks.

“I like it because it’s quiet in here,” Ah Jong says. “I feel comfortable just sitting here.”

(Note: I’d heard that the Dragon Dynasty Blu-Ray has “dubtitles,” transcribed from the dub instead of a direct translation, but it’s not true. The dubbed dialogue is very different and less natural, for example Fung directly asks “Do you believe in God?”)

See, it’s hypocritical for an assassin to hang out in a church. That he wants to symbolizes that there’s still a part of him that is good, that cares about (as the subtitles say throughout the movie) “honor and ethics.” That’s what this story is about. He’s sent to kill a gangster at a night club, and he does it. But of course this erupts into a full on gun fight. The place doesn’t look that much bigger than my apartment, and he fires around fifty bullets. He tries to shield the innocent club singer Jennie (Sally Yeh, PEKING OPERA BLUES), but fires his gun near her face and damages her eyes. And he feels bad. He kills people for a living, but this lady, who did nothing, who sings sappy songs that speak to the heart, he didn’t want to fuck up her life.

mp_thekillerIn contrast to his cold-bloodedness moments ago when he kicked a table to flip it over and catapult a gun into his hand to shoot a guy with, Ah Jong looks immediately horrified. Jennie flails around, grabs onto a table cloth and pulls it down. He embraces her, tries to calm her, wraps his scarf around her bloody eyes.

One montage later – during which he hovers, listens to her sing and watches her, feeling like an asshole – he has one of those movie moments where he just happens to see two dudes walk up to her in an alley and try to gang rape her and he runs in and beats them up (an easy day for action director Ching Siu-Tung). He becomes her friend and protector. She can kind of see shapes, but not enough to recognize him as that last face she saw that’s burnt into her memory, staring at her through a sea of blood. He’s honestly not trying to get into a romantic comedy lie with her, but it happens. And her sight is getting worse, so he agrees to take one last job for HK 1.5 million so he can bring her to the States and get her surgery. He has to assassinate a politician as he ceremonially paints dots on the eyes of a dragonboat. Giving it new corneas.

Back in the day it was the gun fights that most captured our imaginations – firing two pistols at a time, sometimes while leaping through the air, pointing around corners, sliding or rolling, only seeming to reload when it was needed for dramatic effect. I guess Woo’s poetic fetishization of guns is a hard sell right now, as horrific gun violence increasingly terrorizes the citizens and fattens the wallets of the politicians willing to stand up and pretend that refusing to do anything about it means freedom and America and eagles and shit. But Woo, who last I heard claimed to have never fired a gun himself, has a different approach than the hardware-obsessed American action films of that decade (think RAMBO or PREDATOR). His shoot outs seem more based in the martial arts, emphasizing the movements of the combatants. Someone coined the term “bullet ballet,” and that was generally how we thought of Woo’s movies.

But in THE KILLER, and later BULLET IN THE HEAD, Woo (like one of his heroes, Peckinpah) alternates between thrilling action and sobering reminders of its consequences. Ah Jong’s pursuer Inspector Li (Danny Lee, CITY ON FIRE) says “every shot takes a life,” which is heartfelt, but not technically true. Usually several shots are used for each life. At the dragonboat festival Ah Jong hits his target right between the eyes and still puts two more in his back as he falls. But the iconic image of Woo’s shootouts is not anything to do with bloody squibs exploding out of people, it’s a Mexican standoff. Two men standing with guns aimed or pressed against each other. Mutually assured destruction.

To this day, nobody has matched Woo’s gunplay scenes, and yet it’s the style he lathers on outside of the carnage that really captivates me: the dreamy slow motion shots, the wavy bars of yellow, red, white and magenta neon reflected across wet cobblestone, the shot of Ah Jong in a dark suit, leaning casually against a wall in the club, bathed in red light, motionless, before he disappears from sight while others pass in front of him.

Woo likes to slow down time to admire the imagery, but he can also speed up to be kinetic. A scene of police discussing how to stop the assassination at the festival is laced with quick flashes of the boats racing, like the movie is so excited to get started it’s accidentally jumping ahead in time.

The documentary-like scenery of the festival widens the scale of the movie, but the highlight of the sequence is after Ah Jong flees from the police and then gets attacked on a beach by the Triads who hired him in the first place. A little girl is wounded in the crossfire, and he picks her up and drives off with her (evidence that his guilt over Jennie is not merely based in infatuation, as well as a precursor to HARD BOILED‘s iconic image of Chow running around with a gun in one hand and a baby in the other).

This is how Li is able to catch up with Ah Jong. He suspects, to the confusion of his colleagues, that this killer has a conscience, and will bring the girl to the nearest hospital. This is the ultimate iteration of one of Woo’s favorite themes, the two men on opposite sides who bond because they are reflected in each other.

Jennie even mistakes Li for Ah Jong when he approaches her in the restaurant. They become the two friendly men in her life, neither letting her in on what’s actually going on. It’s a complicated situation when Ah Jong and Li show up at her apartment at the same time and have each other at gun point, but they don’t want to upset her so they pretend to be old soccer friends, taunting each other with double meanings, aiming guns past her head because she can’t see them. This may sound like a farcical scene, but it’s played more for tension than laughs.

Many strong parallels are drawn between the two. When we first see Li he’s undercover. Just like Ah Jong, he’s lying about himself to get closer to someone. And when his betrayal is found out he chases some suspects onto a crowded trolley, and one of the hostages is so scared she has a heart attack. So both of them have friendly fire incidents. Ironically, it’s the cop who’s defensive about the tragedy and the killer who feels the need for redemption.

Later Li is retracing Ah Jong’s steps and sits in a chair where he figures out he was sitting when he shot somebody coming through the door. Woo brilliantly flashes between Ah Jong doing the shooting and Li re-enacting it, a piece of visual language that both tells us what Li has figured out and forces us to see them as the same.

It’s not as if the West was experiencing a dearth of action movies at this time. As THE KILLER was released in Hong Kong, LETHAL WEAPON 2 came out in the U.S. Also that year: KICKBOXER, ROAD HOUSE, BEST OF THE BEST, DEAD BANG, TANGO & CASH, THE PUNISHER. But when Woo’s films made it stateside they seemed like a revelation, a much more powerful strain of action than the type we’d grown used to. He gave us a jolt of adrenaline by depicting violence in an over-the-top style unlike anything we’d ever seen, then he turned around and tried to make us feel sad.

Woo’s best movies, and much of Hong Kong action cinema of the era, are rife with melodrama that may be off-putting to Americans only comfortable with cynicism, irony and wiseassedness. The idea of exploring the respect and loyalty between two male characters seemed so alien to the West that it was a cliche to refer to Woo’s films as “homoerotic,” as if friendship between men can only mean they want to fuck each other. In THE KILLER, Ah Jong not only befriends his enemy Li, but has an intense relationship with Fung, who considers betraying him to save his own ass from the Triads. The idea of the bond being broken and having to kill his old friend is so upsetting to Ah Jong that it looks like he’s about to cry. To me this intensity of emotion is not a quirk, it’s a big part of the appeal. Hong Kong action heroes are in touch with their inner the-end-of-FIRST-BLOOD-when-he-cries-to-Trautman.

Li seems somewhat worshipful of Ah Jong. Describing him to a sketch artist, he says that “He has a manly air about him. He’s a bit different from your average murderer. He’s very calm, quite intelligent. His eyes are very alert. Full of compassion. Full of passion.”

Yep, that sounds like Chow Yun-Fat all right. In Hong Kong, Chow had already gone from TV actor to movie superstar with his role as Mark in Woo’s A BETTER TOMORROW, which smashed all Hong Kong box office records in 1986 and won Chow a Hong Kong Film Award for best actor. But this is him at his most suave. He wears nice timeless suits or a tux with that white silk scarf. He has perfect hair. In disguises sometimes he looks even better – a mustache, salt and pepper hair, sunglasses, in a speed boat, with a sniper rifle like Golgo 13. It created a new image for Chow.

Had Woo had his way, there would’ve been an extra layer of smoothness, as he wanted Jennie to be a jazz singer and Ah Jong a saxophone player. Producer Tsui Hark put his foot down, believing jazz didn’t translate to Chinese audiences. Instead, Ah Jong’s badass juxtaposition is to play sad harmonica while looking up at the church steeple.

I never noticed this before, but there are some interesting parallels between THE KILLER and Woo’s career. When Ah Jong does the assassination, the Triads who hired him immediately turn on him and try to have him killed. For Woo’s part, Tsui was producing THE KILLER but turned on him when they disagreed about the editing of A BETTER TOMORROW 2, and Woo had to get the rest of the funds from Chow and Lee. Ah Jong took that last high-paying job so he could bring Jennie to America where there’s a better chance of getting her a cornea transplant. Woo actually had a few more jobs (BULLET IN THE HEAD, ONCE A THIEF and HARD BOILED, where he stuck both middle fingers up at Tsui by opening with Chow playing sax in a jazz club), but he too headed for the U.S. looking for opportunity.

Though I assume this is coincidental and intentionally reflecting his situation, Woo did start filming THE KILLER with only a treatment and wrote most of it while filming. An argument could be made for some of the story being autobiographical, at least subconsciously.

Released in Hong Kong a month after the Tiananmen Square massacre, THE KILLER was not an immediate hit like A BETTER TOMORROW. But it did go on to acclaim, winning best director and editing at the Hong Kong Film Awards. (It was nominated for best picture, but lost to something called BEYOND THE SUNSET, which is not available on video in the U.S.) Chow was not nominated for his acting in THE KILLER, but he actually won that year for Johnnie To’s ALL ABOUT AH-LONG and was also nominated for GOD OF GAMBLERS (among his opponents were Jackie Chan in MIRACLES and Sammo Hung in EIGHT TAELS OF GOLD). Paul Chu Kong got a best supporting actor nomination for playing Ah Jong’s manager and confidant.

In Leone terms, I consider THE KILLER to be kind of like A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS to HARD BOILED’s THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. Or in James Cameron terms, THE TERMINATOR to TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. I generally prefer the sprawling epic, but sometimes you want a tighter, more contained story. THE KILLER is a beautiful, envelope-pushing work of crime cinema, using extreme characters to show the fallacy of good guys and bad guys; the potential for man to fuck up, but also to make amends. It’s a perfectly mixed cocktail of technical elegance, balls-to-the-wall awesomeness and heart-on-the-sleeve sentimentality. Required viewing.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016 at 12:13 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

58 Responses to “The Killer”

  1. Huge favorite of mine and infinitely re-watchable. This one and A Better Tomorrow are actually my favorite Woo joints over Bullet in the Head and Hard Boiled even.

    The U.S. remake seems to pop it’s head up every 2 or 3 years and they say it is totes happening this time and then we never hear from it again, kind of like the U.S. Akira movie. I wonder if they are still going with Lee being a woman in the U.S. version because at one point the producers deemed the relation as too gay, as Vern mentioned people keep accusing the original of as well.

  2. An absolute classic, and the film which started my obsession with HK cinema. My favourite moment comes in the church at the end, as Li and Ah Jong reload, get their second wind, share a joke – then Woo freeze-frames on their faces, happy, smiling, before diving back into the carnage. Cool as hell.

  3. Before the talkback gets out of hand with how awesome this movie is, I thought I’d share with you the trailer that I had watched in the early 90s one some random VHS tape I rented at Blockbuster once. I was a big action movie fan and I don’t think I wanted to watch a movie more than I did after seeing this trailer. I love it because it takes the traditional foreign art house trailer with quotes from critics and the foreign art house movie trailer and also shows these amazing scenes of John Woo carnage. The only odd thing that I still don’t get is how they call it an action comedy. I guess because they figured that the art house crowd would probably laugh but I don’t think anybody that has seen this movie really laughs at it, you know what I mean.

    Also, the VHS box talking about the 10,000 bullets. Holy shit this was like God coming down from the heavens or something. I can’t quite tell you just how important this film is to myself and countless others who fell in love with John Woo and that type of action movie.

    On a related note I showed my friend Bullet in the Head. I had forgotten that the movie is depressing but holy shit it’s just unrelenting in the shit John Woo puts everybody through. It’s easily one of the most depressing movies that ever lived. I had to wash that shit down with Streets of Fire.

  4. Oops, mean to link the trailer

  5. Yep, it’s a beautiful film – equal parts heartbreaking, super-cool and awesome as all hell. The music is pretty great, too.

    Seeing it for the first time really is one of those “holy shit!” moments you don’t get that often.

    And to think, Woo didn’t give it the ending he really wanted – he kinda just…stopped. And it’s amazing. It’s perfect.

    (Bragging time: I bought the Criterion DVD the other day. 20 dollars. When I got it I noticed it’s signed by Danny Lee!)

    Vern, I think it might be time for you to review FULL CONTACT if you get the chance. It’s not Woo, but it is Chow at the height of his powers, and well worth seeing.

  6. Nabroleon Dynamite

    June 22nd, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    One Saturday night/Sunday morning after the club, I had an enjoyable Cinemax and chill moment.

    Once the dirty deed was done for zip zero, no dinero, this ill movie that I knew nothing about was on with subtitles poppin!

    It took me months to chase down this “The dude was called Mickey Mouse” movie.

    But once I found it (and Hard Boiled) it was on.

    Yo! Where my Killer tape, son?

  7. I’ll always have a soft spot for the “Mickey Mouse! Donald Duck!” dub of this movie, because that’s the way I first saw it, and also because it got sampled so thoroughly on the Raekwon purple tape. The subtitled version just doesn’t do it for me.

  8. “when Hong Kong action cinema was the coolest thing going”– was there a made-for-cable action movie in the ’90s that didn’t copy either Woo’s “flying through the air shooting two guns” trope or his “two- or three-way standoff with guns pointed at each other’s heads” visual? Even down to other rip offs like Eric Roberts mixing a tequila slam in one of the ’90s Spenser cable movie. A friend of mine thought it was cool, and I had to tell him that it was a steal from HARD-BOILED.

    “it seems like the youth of today aren’t necessarily interested in this shit” — in an article on home video versions of SUPERCOP/POLICE STORY 3 a couple of months ago on the Cinema Retro blog, I wondered how many people under 20 these days even know who Jackie Chan is.

  9. Beautiful piece, Vern. It’s great to read a fan who sees behind the bullets.

  10. I can still vividly remember the first time I saw The Killer. I was 11, it was 1996, and every Saturday night SBS (the foreign channel in Australia) would have a badass cult flick presented by a bloke called Des Mangan. I owe so much of my taste to this gentleman. He would curate the films and try to put together little theme weeks as best the network would allow. Ninja Scroll, The Weatherwoman, Eastern Condors, he would just smash out the best and freakiest stuff I had ever seen. Then he mentioned one week that he would be showing John Who’s ‘The Killer’. Well being a massive ‘Hard Target’ fan and remembering John’s name from the credits, I was keen. Then Mondays paper came out with the TV guide, and lo and behold movie of the week was ‘The Killer’.

    So both Des and the TV guide were telling me this flick is amazing?!? Well I went straight out and bought a fresh VHS to record this bad boy for future viewings, set my timer record up a week early, and waiting with bated breath. Saturday, 9:30 pm crawled around and I was frothing at the mouth. Parked myself on my bean bag in front of the little 34cm TV in my room, and got completely schooled. This was the start of a now 20 year love affair with the film.

    At the time, I could not believe what I was seeing. It was exciting, melancholy and heart breaking all at the same time. I slept rough that night, processing the ending, digesting. Sure enough, I woke up the next morning, dragged my dad into my room, sat him down, and watched it again with him in tow.

    TLDR/cliffs: I love ‘The Killer’, I love that Vern loves it, and I love all of you in the comments for loving it. If I could shout everyone in here a beer whilst we all professed our love for this gem of a film and talked shite, the world would be a better place.

  11. THE KILLER is easily Woos most impressive accomplishment in my opinion. HARD BOILED may be alot of action fans go to movie. But it feels more like a technical showcase than a personal expression.THE KILLER is my favourite Woo and always will be.

  12. What did your dad think of the film, Count?

  13. He dug it, but being his first HK action flick he found the melodrama a touch strong. However, with Woo perfecting his formula for the glossier but less personal Hard Boiled, the old man rated that higher. I think out of the two, it’s probably the better introduction to folks not versed in Woo.

  14. One Guy From Andromeda

    June 23rd, 2016 at 1:18 am

    Now i feel like an idiot for never having made the connection between the politician painting an eye on the boat and Ah Jong’s mission – thanks for the insight Vern : )

  15. Yeah, I’d never noticed the symbolism of the dragon boat eyes either. Good catch.

    Looking back, this must have been the first Hong Kong movie I ever saw. I didn’t walk in expecting art. The local theatre was playing it up as the most violent film ever made ― and in terms of on-screen body count, it must be in the running. In any case, that’s why I and my friends went to see it. But we watched it a second time and a third, and sought out his other films when they made their way overseas, because Woo’s direction was so damn good.

    To the extent that Woo’s movies are homoerotic, I’m sure he’s well aware of it. One of his earliest co-directed shorts from 1968, DEAD KNOT, is about a gay guy played by Woo himself.

  16. The Killer was my second Woo movie, just after Hard Boiled, and, to this day, I haven’t figured out which one’s my favorite. The funny thing is that the only release available in the Brazilian market (this was around 1995) was the American Dubbing, which was then subbed to Portuguese – so the Mickey Mouse/Donald Duck stuff was always there for me as well.

    It’s curious that you guys see Woo (and action movies in general) as a form of bonding with your dads. This might be a local issue, but I think action movies in general were frowned upon by my father’s generation – my friends and I would rent the tapes and watch them in hiding. I’ve been trying to figure out what the problem was for a while now. It wasn’t the violence itself – my dad was a sucked for horror movies and didn’t wince at pretty gruesome stuff. I guess it had something to do with the politics of Reagan Era action movies: having spent 20 years under a military dictatorship, it would be hard to our fathers in Brazil not to perceive themselves in the receiving end of the freedom doled out by the 80’s action heroes.

    Of course, for us, enthusiasts, action movies comes in all shapes and sizes (and Woo’s morality is quite different than the one that permeates Cannon films, for instance), but I can’t really blame my father’s generation for being put off action movies in general. Thankfully, Fury Road fixed that – I rewatched it with my father the other day and it was the first time I’ve seen him genuinely enjoying a full-on action movie.

  17. Yeah this review makes me miss John Woo and reminds me how good he was/is and how hopefully he’ll make another movie to rescue us from this action movie dryspell we’ve been in. Also, reminds me of how I could only see this movie via really low-quality VHS’s (I’m still not sure if I’ve ever seen this on DVD or Blu Ray), and I was so excited when the local art-house was going to play it for one night only. So imagine my surprise when it was packed with mostly hipstery professor types who laughed the ENTIRE way through it. Like, even when she gets blinded and even at the end where they’re both blind and crawling on the ground and can’t find each other- people were cracking up for who knows what reason, maybe the unironic emotion made them uncomfortable when they were expecting something campier. Either way it was one of the worst movie-going experiences in my life.

  18. Christ almighty, fuckin’ hipster arthouse audiences. Always thinking they’re too clever and cool for movies that are about a million times cleverer and cooler than they’ll ever be. I stopped going to revival screenings after they ruined SHOGUN ASSASSIN for me. These soulless snarkmongers could always be counted on to turn any old classic into a chance to vocally express how above it all they were.

    My favorite memory of these water-brained dickholes getting their ironic detachment shoved back in their faces was opening night of RAMBO. The theater was full of trust fund babies who’d never had a real problem or faced a real obstacle, never felt any actual anger or frustration or fury, never been touched by violence or oppression, never been forced to take anything seriously, not once in the smug little meme collections they call their lives, and all of them were there to laugh at this weird-looking old man who dared to be unembarrassed about himself and his life’s work and how he saw the world. They spent the first 20 minutes cackling and snorting to each other, but then the massacre scene started and they SHUT. THE FUCK. UP. The movie kicked their fucking entitled asses into having a genuine goddamn experience. If they had any jokes for the rest of the running time, they kept them to themselves. I’m sure they all went back to snarking on it as soon as the credits rolled, but while it lasted, it was a beautiful thing.

  19. I recently watched Triple 9. It was a boring, unrewarding experience. I bring it up because the trailer made it seem like it would be way more interesting than it is. There were several moments highlighted by what looked like a cool looking gun fight. I had a similar experience with the trailer for Sicario.. My point here isn’t about the trailers but that there are no big budget theatrical release gun fight movies any more. It’s not like I need a movie with non stop gun fights but there was no reason why both of these movies couldn’t have at least one Heat like extended gun battle. Maybe it’s because Hollywood is liberal and thus more about anti-guns or what but it’s frustrating that I can’t get good big budget action movies these days that aren’t superhero movies. I think this may be why I prefer Winter Soldier over Civil War.

    Also, John Woo doesn’t even do John Woo style movies anymore.

  20. Mr. Majestyk – although I think that kind of reaction indeed derives from snark, I think very few of us knew what to expect from RAMBO. The series as a whole is all over the place in terms of tone: RAMBO 3 has a lot of overtly funny dialogue (although I might have that impression because of the awesome Brazilian dubbing – the guys who dubs Stallone in all of his movies is a celebrity down here). So I guess there’s some justification to expecting some humor in RAMBO. The fact that it is stripped from any irony is a testament to Stallone’s honesty and courage as a filmmaker.

    What gets to my nerves is people who haven’t seen Rocky (part 1) treating it as a corny movie. It’s – again – one of the most honest movies I’ve ever seen, and it takes guts to stick to dramatic material without irony. In that sense, I think Stallone has a lot of what Vern praises in John Woo about wearing his heart on his sleeve.

  21. Sternshein – yeah I loved Sicario but I also felt like an awesome gun battle would have taken it to the next level – the whole convoy scene where they’re stuck in traffic seemed like it was going to erupt into a Heat-style gun fight, but then it ended quickly and ruthlessly. Realistic, sure. But I know Villeneuve would have hit it out of the park.

    There’s a few movies out there still keeping the shoot em up alive – John Wick, which is decidedly small scale and low-budget, and Olympus/London Has Fallen which isn’t exactly an event movie but is still probably considered A-list. Suicide Squad looks like it’ll have more gunplay than most superhero movies and plus I think they’ve been teasing Bad Boys 3 and Die Hard 6 so at least we’ll have those to look forward to if they’re not terrible.

  22. I’m going to watch London Has Fallen soon to see if there is actually satire in it or not but how are the gun battles? Are they interesting?

    Also, I don’t want to look like a macho asshole. Gunfights for sake of gunfights when you don’t care anybody aren’t that great.

  23. I’m going to watch London Has Fallen soon to see if there is actually satire in it or not but how are the gun battles? Are they interesting?

    Also, I don’t want to look like a macho asshole. Gunfights for sake of gunfights when you don’t care anybody aren’t that great.

  24. And John Sayles is doing a Django with Franco Nero. There should be a least a couple of shots fired on that one.

  25. I saw HARD-BOILED in the cinema first, in 1992, then FULL CONTACT and THE KILLER on VHS later the same year. And that was it, I was hooked on yun-fat Chow! And during 1993 I sought out and bought 20 of his previous movies…Well, long, boring story aside, I’m buying a ticket for the “THE KILLER is without doubt the masterpiece in Chow and Woo’s career” train as well. And I’m packing two Berettas, so don’t fuck with me!

  26. It’s really annoying when an audience isn’t willing to meet a film where it lives. The trailer that Sternshein linked to is kind of interesting in how it’s presenting the film. At the end they call it an “action comedy,” and one of the early pull quotes calls it a masterpiece of camp, or something like that. I don’t really detect camp in John Woo’s films, but I guess if you’re a movie critic in the 90s, then you can’t take straightfaced melodrama seriously.

  27. I’m another one who was conditioned on the dubbed version. Was one of ny most watched movies at that time along with LA FEMME NIKITA (this one with subtitles) and when ONLY BUILT 4 CUBAN LINX came out a couple of years later it was my favorite album partly because of all the sampling from this movie’s dubbed version.

    HARD BOILED is more visceral and A BETTER TOMORROW is more slick but this was always the most heartfelt and tragic of Chow’s excursions in THE WOO ZONE so to me it will always be my favorite of the bunch.

  28. Wow, I remember seeing that trailer and even now I don’t know how in a million years it could be called an “action comedy”, except by someone who didn’t watch the damn thing properly beacause it was “just” an action flick, and a foreign one, at that. Simple, good old-fashioned condescension. It’s just a chop-socky, right?

    I never really got the whole homoerotic angle here, either. With something like a Chang Cheh flick it’s more open to interpretation, but with THE KILLER it just seemed that people didn’t quite get the whole “heng dai/brothers in combat” thing and plumped for that.

    Sternshein – I recently saw LONDON HAS FALLEN and it did make me wonder if the writers were going for something in the satire/piss-take area:

    1. There’s a little bit of irony regarding a character that made me wonder if they might be going for something interesting but I don’t want to go into spoiler territory), and:

    2. A scene where Butler beats up some bad guy dude and gives him some ridiculous speech that made me think of the opening to THE NAKED GUN.

    As for action, there’s exactly one very well shot action scene on a street that almost – almost – made me glad I watched it – but overall, I hated the film.

  29. The very first Woo Movie i experienced.
    Back in the good old days me and my best schoolyard buddy (metalhead kind of guy who lived in the cellar under his parents bedroom – his dad repaired TVs and VCR machines for a living – whatever happened to those guys in this new Full-HD-Flatscreen-World? – and also the one who introduced me to the delights of early splatter movie stuff – he was also the proud owner of every uncensored Cannibale Corpse record cover in these days) wrote for our local student newspaper. We were responsible for the so-called culture section (the teachers didn´t expect any “under the sheets journalism” they wanted us to write about Tamagochis and stuff) we used it shamelessly to spread the word about this chinese guy who directed these bad ass violent crazy action “bullets flying all over” ballets with so much cool slow-mo in it that you had to see to believe it! So we were together with the whole editorial and the teacher wo even organized a VCR so we could play our UK-import-tape (pretty expensive item we always put our money together so we could afford those) of John Woo´s THE KILLER in before an audience consisting mainly of teacher’s pets that were absolutely not prepared for what should come next (bloody adult stuff!).
    For the vindication of the responsible teacher it must be said that he extremely lodged many cigarette breaks and so most of the time he wasn´t even in the room but he came back just in time to catch a glimpse of the greatness which is the final church shoot-out!
    Due to lack of topic variety our John Woo article was indeed released and nobody ever lost a word about that glory afternoon at the “Woo-vies”.
    I recently rewatched it and it never appeared to me who cheesy that whole heroic bloodshed stuff must have felt for our classmates. Watching it twenty years later it´s cheesiness feels like singing an bad pop song (that you really love) so loud and out of tune but you don´t care if somebody listens and will be embarrassed by what they hear.

  30. neal2zod – that’s fucked up about the screening you went to man. I think you hit the nail on the head though in regards to the lack of irony in the emotional core of the flick. Everything nowadays has to be so meta and self aware that any flick that bares it’s heart on its sleeve is automatically picked apart and laughed at.
    I’m quite lucky as I attended a screening of Predator recently with a packed house. Granted the one liners got a chuckle, but for the most part it was pure respect with a standing ovation at the end. Hopefully the upcoming screening of Aliens I’m attending has the same affect.

  31. I just rewatched THE KILLER before reading your review. Spot-on!

  32. I had to come back to correct myself: I was trying to put my Woo-ing on a timeline and I’m pretty sure that my first movie of his was Hard Target. Although I came to appreciate its place in Woo’s filmography, I think I never counted it as my first Woo experience, partly because its style is comparatively understated, but also because, being a kid, I watched it as a Van Damme movie.

  33. It’s tough to decide which is better more because I love Chow Yun Fat as the ultimate “cowboy cop” in HARD BOILED and the action sequences are phenomenal, but THE KILLER is just more poetic and beautiful and tragic.

  34. neal2zod, it’s one of the reasons Quentin Tarantino told critic Elvis Mitchell in an interview he’s hesitant to make a melodrama like the kind Douglas Sirk made in the 1950s. He said he can hear the laughs in the theater because modern American audiences are uncomfortable with big, unironic emotions in movies.

  35. Wow it seems like there’s a lot of elitism about ‘how much better things were in my day’ going on here. The Killer came out when I was 2. But that doesn’t mean people my age or younger don’t get to have that kind of experience. I remember rushing out of class early to go see a screening of Ong Bak, missing the opening scene in the trees cause the only cinema showing it was at the top of like a 20 story building, and having what was basically a life changing experience during the bar fight.
    I’m sure people younger then me have had similar experiences with shit like The Raid just blowing them the fuck away.
    I mean yeah a lot of younger people might not be super into Jackie Chan or whatever, but they are just as likely to be into Tony Jaa, or Iko Uwais or whatever.

  36. Ben – I don’t think it’s elitism, more like lamenting the perceived waning of interest in an artform and tradition I love. A concern that people are missing out on some good shit. Tony Jaa and THE RAID are great and I’m sure you’re right that they gave many young people a shot in the arm. They did for me too. But are you saying that I’m wrong, that many people your age and younger DO love John Woo and melodramatic Hong Kong action? Are kids still discovering THE KILLER and realizing there’s a whole world out there, and then trying to dip into Ringo Lam and Johnny To and the newer guys?

    I hope that’s what you’re saying, but I don’t think it is.

  37. There are always going to be young people who are fascinated by “old” stuff and regard it as lost treasure. (The craze for old out-of-print straight-to-VHS movies is fueled largely by people like that.)

    And there are always going to be other people – of whatever age – who just don’t like stuff that’s old enough to seem dated.

    But some “old” things get cooler the more removed they seem from current culture. Stuff that was hated or ignored when it was new develops an aura of “Yeah, that’s how they did things back then! Awesome!”

  38. Crushinator Jones

    June 30th, 2016 at 10:21 am

    The early 90s HK film scene is not repeatable. For one thing, there’s just no “whisper campaign” for anything anymore. It’s all the Internet. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Internet is overall a positive, but the days of having a friend of a friend recommend some weird thing for you to check out, then calling around town for it, then bringing it home and finding this amazing gem shot through the lense of another culture is just gone for good.

    That’s really what I’m lamenting. The sense of getting a glimmer of something, tracking it down, and experiencing something that was rare and magical and yours. It’s all a click away today.

  39. This is my favorite John Woo film. Very happy to read the review.

  40. Kids aren’t discovering the world of asian action cinema through The Killer, but that doesn’t mean it’s being ignored.
    I know myself and a bunch of other people my age first got a taste for this shit seeing Ong Bak, and then have gone back and looked through all the older stuff. Re discovering that Jackie Chan is actually awesome and not just the dude from Shangahi Noon. Going back and rediscovering John Woo movies etc. I know I’ve spent way too long staying up all night trading youtube clips over facebook with mates of the best action sequences we’ve found and that hospital shoot out from Hardboiled ends up being watched a LOT. Not to mention Netflix being around to introduce us all to the old Shaw Brothers movies. (Recently watched the 36 chambers movies for the first time, they’re amazing)

    I mean obviously the experience is different now, we’re nto looking for bootleg videos at a flea market, instead we’re trying to figure out what movie this awesome gif of Donnie Yen suplexing a dude through a table is from (Flash Point, awesome movie, AMAZING suplex) but I don’t really think that makes it a worse experience.

  41. Fans of the HK movie scene have always been perceived as an obnoxious group of hipsters. At least they were so from the mid 80’s (I think it was PEKING OPERA BLUES, 1986, who started the whole thing) and up to 1997 when China took over Hong Hong. I know a bit about this, because I was one of them.

  42. Crushinator Jones

    July 18th, 2016 at 9:25 am

    pegsman, there was no such thing as a “hipster” in the 90s. And HK movie were so off the popular radar that I doubt people viewed them as an obnoxious group of anything.

  43. The term “hipster” has been around for a while. Kramer was aghast when he was referred to as a “hipster dufus” on SEINFELD, for example. While Kramer is no one’s idea of a modern hipster, he nonetheless fits the criteria: immaculately curated consignment shop clothing, laboriously interesting hair, indeterminate source of income, ostentatiously quirky interests that form a strange amalgamation of pretension and kitsch…. It’s all there. I think there’s always been a certain type of urban individual who fit the hipster model, but it’s only in the past decade or so that those attributes got coopted by the mainstream. When that happened, the then-current generation of that type of person’s style of dress and taste in music got codified into the trappings of the modern hipster. So even though HK action fans from back in the heyday wouldn’t fit our modern definition of the term, I think they’d probably qualify for the older, more fluid definition of “weird urban guy who’s into some obscure shit” that Kramer represented.

  44. Crushinator Jones

    July 18th, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    Kramer isn’t aghast. I just looked up the clip. He barely reacts and keeps barrelling forward (as he is wont to do).

    Calling someone a hipster in ’96 for watching John Woo/Tsui Hark/Jackie Chan movies would have gotten a lot of confused looks. Although some people could certainly have a shitty modern-hipster attitude and say “only Woo’s HK stuff is good” (I heard some of that at the end of the 90s).

    But, again, circa ’93 or so the HK film fan community was so small that the Los Angeles area had about 100 guys on Usenet. For an area with a population of 15 million people. Crazy.

  45. I believe the term pops up more than once. Elaine calls him it once, and another time he gets dumped by a woman for being a hipster dufus, which he seems pretty taken aback by.

    Point being, using “hipster” as a pejorative isn’t some new shit. It’s just blown up big-time in recent years.

  46. Has anyone seen the trailer for John Woo´s MANHUNT?. Looks like Wintage Woo to me

  47. Thanks for linking to that poster, I had not seen it and it’s beautiful. I posted it on Twitter and caused many people to freak out. (Sorry, should’ve credited you but I couldn’t remember your Twitter handle.)

  48. Pleasure, Vern. I’m currently not a Twitterer, but thanks for the thought!

  49. Wait? Why are more people not talking about this? I’m really excited about this for obvious reasons. The movie does look like the movie version of a band putting out their greatest hits CD and it happens to have one or two new songs on it.

  50. Maybe because John Woo has slipped out of the consciousness of western audiences? I didn´t even find a decent version of the trailer. perhaps someone with more savvy Internet skills can?

  51. I’m sure the official trailer in better quality will land soon, but for now the ropey copy is the only out there, it seems.

    Film looks great, though.

  52. I think some TV critic writing about SEINFELD had referred to Kramer as a “hipster doofus”, and that the show’s writer(s) responded with the in-joke of having Kramer being stunned that someone had called him that.

    I can’t remember where I heard/read that anecdote, though, so I can’t swear to its accuracy.

  53. I don’t care how familiar anything looks in that trailer, you’d have to be a corpse not to get excited.

    Jet-skis, motorbikes, chicks offloading double-barrell rounds, somersaulting through glass windows on a high-rise, swirling camera moves. Holy shit, this looks fucking awesome!

    I did laugh at the polite applause after the trailer, from whatever venue the video was shot in. Probly a monastery in Tibet.

  54. “You´d have to be a corpse not to get excited” That is a potential blurb for the upcoming dvd cover for MANHUNT right there

  55. I was blown away by the trailer, mostly because here is a Noo Woo that looks like the Old Woo we all on here know and love.

    Verily did it bring a lump to the trousers.

  56. What kind of lump? The in-front kind of protruding lump or the drop from behind kind of lump?

  57. Good question, Shoot.

    Absolutely the former.

    No way did I expect Woo to make something that looks this. The nostalgia factor is irresistible. Hope it delivers.

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