6/26/09

Everyone Wants a Gun Like...The Killer (1989)

But put that bad boy in a flick, every motherfucker out there want one. I’m serious as a heart attack. Them Hong Kong movies came out, every nigga gotta have a .45. And they don’t want one, they want two, cause nigga want to be “the killer.” What they don’t know, and what that movie don’t tell you, is a .45 has a serious fuckin’ jamming’ problem. I always try and steer customer towards a 9-mm. Damn near the same weapon, don’t have half the jamming’ problems. But some niggas out there, you can’t tell them anything. They want a .45. The killer had a .45, they want a .45. -Sam Jackson as Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown

I apologize for all the foul language in the opening there, but I couldn’t start out this review without the speech that set off the event for this while month. While my love of John Woo’s films predates Tarantino writing Ordell’s monolog, that speech certainly solidified my love for one particular film. So far this month we’ve looked at Woo’s best Hollywood effort, his comedic misstep, and his most overblown action epic, and while Hard Boiled will remain my favorite, The Killer (1989) is a close second. It is a film full of style, tons of gunplay, and most importantly heart.

Ah Jong (Chow Yun-Fat) is a hired killer. While on a job, he accidentally blinds a young singer named Jennie (Sally Yeh). He becomes distraught about his mistake and takes on one last job to pay for the expensive surgery that could repair her vision. The cop assigned to track down the hitman is Li Ying (Danny Lee) who himself has just killed an innocent woman while carrying out his duties. While Ying closes in on him, Ah Jong performs his last job as a hired gun, but he is double crossed by the Triad boss that has hired him, and soon Jong is being hunted by two men.

While Hard Boiled is an explosive over the top exercise in pyrotechnics, camera play, and excess, The Killer is a film styled much more in the mold of classic film noir. It still has the ability to explode into violent scenes and rack up a body count of 160, but it remains a character driven story. It was a film that almost didn’t get made. The legendary company Golden Harvest wasn’t interested in the film, but it’s top star, Yun-Fat, insisted that it was the film he wanted to make. Even after it was made, producer Tsui Hark wanted the film completely re-cut to change the focus of the film from Chow’s killer to Danny Lee’s cop. Thankfully, because of the tight release schedule, The Killer was released with it’s storyline intact.

I’m very thankful the movie’s focus wasn’t shifted. The Killer shows off some of the best acting in Chow’s career. Ah Jong is a complex character whose emotional arc is at the root of the film’s impact. While his scenes opposite Danny Lee are great, the true gems in the film involve Chow and Chu Kong as Fung Sei, the middleman who sets up the jobs for Jong. Originally, Chow had wanted Chu to play the role of the cop, but Chu felt he was too old for the role. The two men have wonderful chemistry, and the scene where Jong confronts Fung over his betrayal is a near perfect example of the quiet cool that the men in John Woo’s films exude.

As great as the two of them are, I don’t want to take anything away from Danny Lee. He makes a great heroic (or villainous?) foil for Chow’s Killer. I do wish more had been explored in his character, but the movie isn’t called The Cop. His greatest scene comes when his partner is killed, and while Chow and Chu’s characters are rekindling their friendship, it is intercut with scenes of Lee’s Li Yang losing his best friend. It is poignant moment, and a wonderful way to set up the explosive ending of the film.

The cinematic feast that Woo brought to The Killer is not as frenetic and stylized as some of his other films, but it fits in with the more reserved style and substance of the film. On this film he worked with two cinematographers Peter Pau ( who lensed Dracula 2000 and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Wing-Hung Wong (who was behind the camera of Woo’s Hard Boiled. A Better Tomorrow, and Bullet in the Head). While his trademark slow motion is still on display, like all Woo’s other flourishes, it is more reserved in The Killer. Instead the film is full of many well framed and beautifully constructed shots. I am especially reminded of the boat chase in the film which is both exciting and stunningly realized. It seemed as it if may have been inspired by the similar scene in the James Bond film Live and Let Die, but easily trumps it as an action sequence by combining skillful film making with thrilling action.

The only thing that keeps this film from being a perfect example of Woo’s work is how reserved the film is. The Killer, I’m sure, would have a broader appeal than Hard Boiled, but for pure fun I have to choose the latter. For a movie that really defines the scope of Woo’s work, I would have to go with The Killer. Any film whose opening scene, where Chow Yun-Fat wields paired .45’s and dispatches a plethora of foes, could inspire Tarantino to pen a speech like the one from Jackie Brown has to be quite a film. After all, Eveyone Wants a Gun Like The Killer, and everyone needs to see a film like it too. Just like it.

I hope you all enjoyed this month of John Woo films, but next month it’s back to the scary stuff. I know that you all love horror films out there, and this July, I’m gonna give you just what you’re Craven.

Bugg Rating


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