Combustible Celluloid
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With: Chow Yun-fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh, Chu Kong, Kenneth Tsang, Shing Fui-on, Yip Wing-ho, Yee Fan-wei, Barry Wong, Parkman Wong
Written by: John Woo
Directed by: John Woo
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive strong violence and some language
Language: Cantonese with English subtitles
Running Time: 111
Date: 01/03/1989

The Killer (1989)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Two-Gun Tango

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Following up his monster hit A Better Tomorrow (1986) and its sequel A Better Tomorrow II (1987), director John Woo scaled back on plot and pumped up his extraordinary operatic visuals with The Killer. As a result, he resurrected the action film, which had been languishing in the 1980s with a series of Rambo clones.

Chow Yun-fat stars as kindhearted killer Ah Jong (different English translations have him named "Jeff" or "John") who, during one of his jobs, accidentally blinds a girl singer (Sally Yeh). He takes her under his wing and hopes to use his paycheck to restore her sight, but his employers won't pony up. At the same time, a diligent cop (Danny Lee) is hot on his trail. Ultimately the two men find that they have more in common than they have differences, not to mention some common enemies. So they team up for a masterful showdown in a church.

Woo is not above playing up the loving relationship between the two men without resorting to homoerotic implications; all the relationships, between all the sexes, are unguarded and deeply felt. But it's Woo's action that sets this film apart. Remarkably fluid and clear, his camera swings and pans in rhythm with the actors' movements; candles and pigeons add a symbolic, spiritual weight to the proceedings. Woo has cited Sam Peckinpah and Martin Scorsese as two of his influences, but he has established a touch all his own.

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