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THE KILLER

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Chow Yun-Fat, Sally Yeh, Chu Kong, Danny Lee
Director: John Woo
Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono, Cantonese Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: WinStar Home Entertainment
Features: Director Commentary, Theatrical Trailer
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: October 3, 2000

Film ***1/2

I am a serious John Woo fanatic. Some of my friends think I rate his films just a little too high. I’m probably the only person in the country who listed the director’s Mission Impossible 2 as one of the top five greatest movies of last year. Who else but John Woo, other than maybe Matrix creators Larry and Andy Wachowski, has pushed the envelope in the action genre. He structures his action the way the director of a musical stages a dance number. Each action scene of Woo’s comes complete with awe-inspiring choreography. This form is evident in Woo’s M:I-2, as well as his other American releases; Face/Off, Broken Arrow, and even Hard Target, which remains the best movie to ever star Jean-Claude Van Damme. However, it is back in the director native country of Hong Kong, where his art was truly formed and put to startling perfection. Two such movies have reached a unique cult status with Woo fans in America ever since the director came to the U.S. These films are 1992’s Hard-Boiled, which I consider to be Woo’s undeniable masterpiece of violence, and 1989’s The Killer. Although The Killer doesn’t come close to the level of greatness that the other film has, this one nonetheless contains a great deal of action, and an unusually detailed story in the midst of all the guns-a-blazin’.

The film stars action icon Chow Yun-Fat in a milestone of a performance. He plays hitman Jeff Chow, a man who lives and works by a code of honor, and obeys the rules of the assassination game. Jeff receives his assignments from his mentor and best friend, named Sydney (Chu Kong). Although Sydney does indeed consider himself a close friend to Jeff, he still has ties to the underworld, and frequently has to play the middleman between Jeff and the vicious thugs who hire him. The movie begins with Jeff on his latest assignment from Sydney, which is to take out a high profile gangster. Jeff’s task is successful, but due to the target’s massive bodyguard squad, he ends up accidentally blinding the club’s singer (Sally Yeh), by way of his own gun.

Months later, Jeff is still guilt-ridden about the incident. He finds himself frequenting the nightclub to see that the singer, Jennie, is kept from any form of harm. He eventually comes to a decision to quit the assassination business after doing one last job. The job is at the request of mobster Johnny Weng (Fui-On Shing). Jeff soon discovers the assignment to be nothing less than a double cross by the mobster himself. After a sudden shoot-out, which results in an accidental shooting, this time of a little girl, Jeff and Jennie soon find themselves on the run from both gangsters and the police. What’s worse is that Johnny Weng has also ordered Sydney to kill Jeff, or be killed himself.  

Video ***

This is actually a step up from the transfer for Hard-Boiled. Though what we are offered is a non-anamorphic presentation of the film, WinStar actually put a little more effort into the video quality for The Killer. There are much fewer moments of grain and color distortion, and for a film made more than a decade ago, and in another country (not to put down their film stock), this is quite an impressive job.

Audio **1/2

There are two audio tracks here; one in the movie’s original use of Cantonese, and there is an English audio track as well, which features dubbing of the dialogue and put to very good use, though occasionally I thrive on the extremely corniness of the dialogue dubbing in some of Jackie Chan’s releases. All humor aside, both tracks use the 1.0 mono job, and it actually doesn’t sound as disappointing as you might expect, but the action scenes don’t kick in the way it would on a 5.1 transfer, of even that of a 2.0 surround. An overall mixed reaction to this area.

Features **1/2

Much like the Hard-Boiled disc, all that is featured are trailers for this film and Hard-Boiled and a commentary from John Woo. But the commentary by Woo is a good one, and very insightful as one would expect from a director with such immense talent. So this features area gets extra points for that.

Summary:

The Killer is a die-hard action movie buff’s dream that comes true in the digital format. If you’re a fan of Woo’s or of Chow Yun-Fat, you shouldn’t hesitate whatsoever to see this movie immediately.