Retroplex Cinema: The Killer (1989)

Retroplex Cinema is back for 2015 and this year we are taking a look at some action masterpieces throughout the year.  The first of 2015 features a classic action film that exposed many American movie goers to an outstanding director.  Most American action films even today owe their allegiance to this film.  The film is master action director John Woo's masterpiece, The Killer.

The Killer (1989)
   The Killer is an action film from writer and director John Woo.  The film stars Chow Yun Fat as an assassin named Ah Jong who damages the eye of a singer, Jenny, during a shoot out.  He befriends her and learns that she needs an expensive operation in order to see again.  He decides to take on one final hit in order to pay for it because his guilt for hurting her won't let him move on otherwise.  Meanwhile, police detective Li Ying is after him all the while becoming intrigued about the assassin's good will to help Jenny.  The duo are caught in the crossfire of war with the Triads and Li agrees to make sure Jenny get's what she needs if anything happens to Jong.  We don't want to spoil the film, but what occurs is some of the most spectacular gun battles ever seen on film, even now over 25 years later.
   The Killer was released in Taiwan in March of 1989 with a running time of 124 minutes.  The film was then cut to 110 minutes and saw a wide release in Hong Kong in June of that same year.   This was a decision made by director John Woo who felt the shorter cut was a better film.  When The Killer was released however, it was not an immediate success but slowly found an audience. It was shown at several film festival's outside of Asia where it began to be seen by critics outside of China. When it was praised by critics in the U.S. and other countries the film began to take off and find it's following.    These included Sundance, Cannes, and the Toronto Film Festival. The film's producer Terence Chang suggested that The Killer's success around the world made several Hong Kong filmmakers jealous: "It created a certain kind of resentment in the Hong Kong film industry. One thing I can say for sure is, the American, European, Japanese, Korean and even the Taiwanese audiences and critics appreciated The Killer a lot more than it was in Hong Kong."
 Themes In The Film
     John Woo has said that he wanted The Killer to be about honor, friendship, and the idea of two opposite people finding out they have something in common.  Almost like a "romantic poem" Woo has said.  Two men on opposite sides of the law who find a relation to fight a common enemy in the Triad boss.  Woo was influenced by the Mad Magazine  "Spy vs. Spy" comics.  "When I was young I was fascinated with the cartoon–I love it very much ... the white bird and the black bird are always against each other, but deep in their heart, they are still friendly, and the idea came from that."  Along with the themes of good vs. evil becoming friends and finding honor, Woo also puts a lot of his Christian beliefs in this film and most of his directorial works.  He says a scenes in The Killer were influenced by Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.  In the opening of The Killer, Ah Jong is found in a church stating he enjoys the "tranquility".  Jong is later found in the church again getting several slugs pulled out of his back showing his intense pain while the altar and cross are shown prominently behind him.  Woo believes that, "God is welcoming, no matter if it's a good or a bad man, everyone is welcome"  Woo is also very well known to audiences now for his use of Doves flying in his famous slow motion shots, and The Killer was the first film he ever used the birds.  According to Woo, the Doves represent the spirits of the people.
     The Killer has been one of the biggest influences on most modern action film directors.  Luc Besson, director of Leon The Professional,  has used many ideas and themes that are similar to those found in The Killer.  Director Quentin Tarantino wrote dialog in his film Jackie Brown referencing The Killer, and director Robert Rodriguez has mentioned several times the influence of this film and other John Woo features in his movies El Mariachi and Desperado.  The film has also been an influence in hip-hop music, most notably the Wu-Tang Clan's Raekwon who sampled numerous portion's of dialog for the film on his album only Built 4 Cuban Linx....  Woo felt honored that they used The Killer for the album and asked for nothing in return from the the rap artist.  Even recent action film's such as The Raid, John Wick, and The Matrix films owe some influence to John Woo's The Killer, and many more director's are sure to borrow ideas, themes, and action elements from this classic film.
There has been an on again, off again remake of The Killer in the works as early as 1992 and as recently as 2007.  At this point the film should be left to stand on it's own. It;s an action masterpiece that cannot be recaptured.  To "Americanize" it would do it a disservice and take away from the ideas and themes that john Woo was conveying when the original film came out.  At one point Woo was attached to produce the remake and perhaps he would have given some positive influence on the film, but now it seems time to let it be.  If you have not seen The Killer it is available on Blu-Ray and DVD and can be found here on Amazon.  It is an action fan's dream film and also just a film fan deserves to be seen.  A true masterpiece of cinema!