The Killer is about an ageing assassin, Ah Jong (Chow Yun Fat) who works for the local Triad gang. When Ah Jong is on his last job, he inadvertently blinds a young singer from the muzzle flash of one of his guns in a shootout. The killer with a conscience checks up on her, but realizes that the damage to her eyes is degenerative and that she will slowly lose her sight. Feeling guilty, Ah Jong accepts one last job so he can pay for her to get cornea transplants, only time is not on his side. I do wonder though, if Jennie (Sally Yeh) wasn't already partially blind when Ah Jong checked up on her, would he have killed her? I presume that's why he went back to check on her in the first place.
After the shootout, an ambitious and determined cop, Inspector Li Ying (Danny Lee) vows to catch the professional killer. Ah Jong's only real friend in the assassination business, Fung Sei (Kong Chu) sets Ah Jong up with his last assignment and when a child is caught in the crossfire, Li Ying sees that there might be a little more to Ah Jong than he first thought, since he showed compassion for the child. Meanwhile the Triad's stiff Ah Jong on his money and decide to kill him instead and keep the money for themselves, greed... it's a killer. Feeling like he's let his friend down after the set up, Fung Sei goes to get his friend's money, no matter the risk to himself. As the cop closes in on the killer, Ying slowly realizes that good and bad might not be as black and white as he originally thought they were, and after getting to know Ah Jong, albeit briefly, he's often forced into conflicting situations where he has to temporarily work with Ah Jong to survive the Triad onslaught.
The Killer is one of the most bombastic and over the top action movies I've ever seen, the bullets are flyin' all over the place and they all land with visible impact. There's consequences to all the gun violence, people are bound to get hurt, even innocent people. The stylized action choreography and stunts were planned and they were shot well, no pun intended. There's no shaky-cam and the editing is smooth, if a little fast and frenetic in a couple of places, but everything is visible and flows coherently for the most part. The slick and almost graceful killer embodied by Chow Yun Fat is charismatic and empathatic, he does a good job selling the killer with a conscience archetype.
There's some suspenseful and tense moments between Ah Jong and Li Ying as a cat and mouse game slowly develops between the two of them. One scene has them enjoying a cup of tea with guns drawn on each other as the vision impaired Jennie is clueless as to what is about to go down, it's one of the quieter scenes of the movie, but it's also one of the more memorable, you can see a picture of it above. I will say that John Woo is anything but subtle, his symbolism is a little on the nose too and all his trademarks as an action director are here as well.
As much as the action was top-notch, especially for its day, it's incredibly overly melodramatic, the acting is super cheesy at times, and the character developments could often feel contrived, but this ain't Shakespeare, and nor is it trying to be. What it wants to be, it mostly succeeds at. The emphasis that was placed on the almost unrivaled 'gun-fu' talents of Ah Jong and to a lesser extent Li Ying made me feel like these guys and their 'cool swagger' were practically invincible and invulnerable, but the ending is a surprisingly bleak and depressing one, I wasn't expecting it. Even though The Killer can be histrionic in more ways than one, there's no denying the indelible influence The Killer has had over the action genre. Just one example would be how Willem Dafoe's character in The Boondock Saints obviously lifts a fair amount from Li Ying.
Written by - The Sentry - 28/12/2015