The Killer (Woo, 1989)

The flip-side to Hard-Boiled‘s collective brutality, The Killer is John Woo’s deft combination of character and carnage on a more personal level. Instead of mass slaughters involving civilians, police, and gangsters, it’s Chow Yun Fat’s conflicted assassin versus the world, a man who eventually becomes bitten by the human consequences of his violent actions. His only solace comes in the friendship of a renegade cop (the equally cool Danny Lee) and the love of the woman he has accidentally blinded, played by Sally Yeh. Woo makes a conscious effort to base The Killer in the complexities of Fat’s anti-hero, a man who revolves remarkably back and forth between efficient killer and caring, friendly companion. That’s not to say the bloody gun battles in The Killer aren’t fascinating to watch. While the technical scope of The Killer‘s action sequences are no match for Hard-Boiled‘s ridiculously complicated staging, they resonate more seamlessly because Woo has pre-set them with great characters. Hard-Boiled is impersonal, funny, and universally awesome, while The Killer slows down (at least a bit) the Woo motifs of religious guilt, male angst, and regret, allowing story to take precedent over extreme blood and gore, making for an equally satisfying experience. I remember thinking Hard-Boiled to be effortlessly superior to The Killer when I viewed them as a teenager. But in watching each again, it’s great to see how Woo constructs both with similar tools and aesthetics but with a completely different tone in mind. Hard-Boiled shows the mass destruction of this style, while The Killer revels in the personal tragedies which will occur under Woo’s guise. Each represents the very best in Hong Kong action cinema, just don’t confuse them as twin brothers in blood. No, Hard-Boiled never allows any of it’s human’s to feel the pain and The Killer makes sure they do. Cynical, relentless, and vengeful, The Killer might indeed be Woo’s best film. It’s certainly his most human.

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