From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Professional Killers
The Killer

Because professional killers by design need to be solitary creatures, it's no wonder that in the movies they always seem to find their downfall when they try to establish some kind of ties to another person. In the case of John Woo's The Killer, Jeffrey (Chow Yun-Fat) is undone not just by connections but by conscience.

On of the best hitmen money can buy in Hong Kong, Jeffrey has a hit go horribly wrong in a night club. He makes his hit, but as he shoots his way out of the club, he has an accident with a young singer who was playing the club that night. As he fires on one of the bodyguards trying to kill him, Jennie (Sally Yeh) is too close to the gun and her corneas are burned by the muzzle flash.

She winds up blinded, with only one chance to possibly see again: a very expensive cornea transplant that may or may not work. Jeffrey's conscience won't let him rest until he pulls one last job to get the money to undo the damage he has wrought in Jennie's life.

Woo had already been well established as one of the premier action directors in Hong Kong when The Killer was released in 1989. He was renowned for his action choreography and shooting style that translated to the screen as a "ballet of bullets". The Killer continues his trend for solid action wrapped around a strong emotional core.

Chow Yun-Fat as Jeffrey is a very conscientious man despite his profession. His dedication to Jennie as her guardian angel after the accident reflects the heavy burden of guilt he feels for what he has taken away from her. Though she can still carry on as a singer, he gets small snippets of what other parts of her life were affected by her loss of sight through photos around her apartment.

The pull of his conscience carries beyond Jennie, and impacts decisions he would not have otherwise made in his profession. When the last hit goes wrong from a double cross, a young girl is wounded in the crossfire. Knowing that she needs immediate medical attention to have a chance at living, Jeffrey does everything in his power to see to it that she gets it, even at risk to his own life and freedom.

The double cross sets the stage for one of the other main subplots in the story. Questions of what defines loyalty and friendship weigh heavily in this film. Jeffrey must cope with questioning the loyalty of his friend and mentor Sydney. He also receives an unexpected ally in Police Inspector Li (Danny Lee). Li seeks to get Jeffrey for what Li perceives as Jeffrey's role in the death of his partner. As he comes to know Jeffrey better, Li recognizes the wild streak in Jeffrey that thrives in Li himself. Combined with an understanding of Jeffrey's crisis of conscience surrounding Jennie's accident, Li develops a begrudging respect for Jeffrey.

This is a movie about criminals, however, and hitman rarely if ever get the happy ending. This film is no exception, with a huge gun battle in a remote church that settles all scores for all the players, none of them in a way that can be described as satisfactory for them.

The movie though is more than satisfactory for me as a viewer from beginning to end. Any Hong Kong era Woo movie is a joy just to watch for the way he shoots his action. Shying away from the debate about how he has been neutered in his Hollywood efforts, I can safely say that this is as good as he can get with this film. If you've seen Face/Off, Woo's only really solid Hollywood vehicle, you'll recognize elements of the church standoff in that movie that he cribbed out of his work in The Killer. The scene here is much more compelling, with better tension.

Chow Yun-Fat has a lot of the charisma and grit he demonstrates in the later Woo feature Hard Boiled, but also some of the world weariness that made his turn as Li Mu Bai in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon so amazing. It really kills me sometimes that he doesn't get more opportunities to stand out as a leading man, having to go instead with crap like Bulletproof Monk.

If you want to get a feel for Woo in any real capacity, you have to see this movie, along with A Better Tomorrow I & II, and Hard Boiled, his last Hong Kong feature before coming to the US. Action doesn't get any better. And this movie shows a hitman that isn't afraid to get introspective.

Tomorrow, we'll see another hitman that gets introspective, but it gets played for some solid laughs. Grosse Pointe Blank. Have a good night.