Wednesday, January 4, 2017

#588: The Killer

Directed by: JOHN WOO
1989, TSPDT Rank #635

The Hong Kong action films of John Woo are in a category of their own, featuring a heady blend of gratuitous gunplay, operatic drama, and screwball comedy which is unparalleled in the action genre. I'm not generally a big fan of action films, but Woo's are unique and audacious enough to keep me interested most of the time - although this preference still tends to get in the way of my enjoyment somewhat. Regardless, The Killer is one of the most renowned of Woo's films, and it shows his style in what is possibly its most distilled state. All of the aforementioned elements of Woo's formula are present in full force throughout this story of a world-weary assassin (played by the ever-present Chow Yun-Fat) and his attempts to go straight, while helping a beautiful singer, whose eyes he accidentally injured during a nightclub shootout, regain her eyesight in the process. Of course, the plot gets much more complicated from there, as Chow is targeted by both the triads he works for and the Hong Kong police after deciding to perform one last hit. Platonic bonds and codes of honor between men are always important themes for Woo, and they are particularly emphasized here - as Chow forms strong bonds with members of both enemy groups over the course of the film. As usual in Woo's films, the philosophical ramifications of these bonds and the symbolism which backs them up (represented, in this case, by a church filled with countless candles and huge statues of the Virgin Mary) are just as important as the gunfights. However, the plot is still propelled primarily by its high-voltage action scenes - with gunfire dialogue for punctuation and equally extravagant doses of masculine melodrama to lend meaning to the action. Woo's filmmaking craft and skill in staging action scenes is impeccable, and his influences on action films from all over the world can be seen throughout this film, as well as his other early works (Hard Boiled is particularly recommended, if you like what you see here).

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