Film Review: The Killer (1989)

Release Date: July 6th, 1989 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: John Woo
Written by: John Woo
Music by: Lowell Lo
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh, Chu Kong, Kenneth Tsang, Shing Fui-On

Film Workshop, 110 Minutes


I have been taking an online course in Hing Kong cinema. So of course John Woo would have to be a subject within the course. There are several of his films that are recommended for the section on him but I decided to watch The Killer. It is a film that I have heard a great deal of praise for, over the years. Also, I have seen a dozen or so of his movies but still hadn’t gotten my hands on this one. So I felt the need to rectify that.

The film stars long-time Woo collaborator Chow Yun-fat. He plays Ah Jong, a Triad assassin for fire. Philosophically, he only wants to kill bad men but that ideal is challenged throughout his career and when we meet him, he is a very conflicted man.

His internal battle is then compounded by his accidental injuring of a singer during a shootout in a restaurant. The woman is blinded and he feels tremendous guilt. He then shadows her, as a sort of protector, one night saving her from a couple of rapists. They develop a friendship but Ah Jong doesn’t reveal who he is. He then takes one final job. With the earnings of his final hit, he plans to pay for the woman’s surgery that can hopefully bring back her eyesight.

The mission is a setup however, and we end up seeing the conflicted hitman have to deal with the mess that is his life. Also being chased by a very vigilant cop, Ah Jong must put things right and find peace for his soul. The film climaxes with an awe-inspiring shootout at a church between Ah Jong, the cop and a massive gang of Triad killers.

The Killer, having just seen it once, has become my favorite John Woo movie up to this point. It has a heavy, philosophical plot and while the picture features an immense amount of violence, it also has a hefty helping of tenderness. The film finds itself in conflict, similar to what Ah Jong is going through. Woo perfectly embodies both aspects of this conflict visually and narratively.

Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee also have the sort of chemistry that you don’t see in these types of films very often. While they have a natural rivalry with one being a criminal and one being a cop, there is a strong buddy connection. The way that connection plays out and evolves throughout the picture is fantastic. Two men from two different walks of life are able to unify, both blurring their own lines for the greater good.

I loved this film and it really made me want to watch more of John Woo’s older Hong Kong work.

Rating: 9/10

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