There is something of a directorial dialogue between Eastern and Western filmmakers. Few things so appropriately evince this tendency than the relationship between Jean Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï and John Woo’s The Killer. Woo readily states that Melville is a great influence of his [The Criterion DVD liner notes for Le Samouraï contain an essay by Woo] and Melville’s interest in Eastern culture is readily apparent. Why would a Hong Kong director be so obsessed with a French director who made a film called The Samurai? And the obsession is obvious, for The Killer is rife with homages to Le Samouraï. Both concern hitmen who become obsessed with female lounge acts who witness their murders; that very obsession results in their destruction.
But where Le Samouraï is art cinema, The Killer was meant for a more mainstream audience. Where Le Samouraï is almost mythical and timeless, The Killer is very much a part of the 1980s. There might be a slight tendency toward melodrama in The Killer, as opposed to the emotional austerity in Le Samouraï, but by no means should this be taken as disparaging of Woo’s film. It is necessary, for Chow Yun-Fat’s character is a killer with a heart of gold, much more heroic and sympathetic than Alain Delon’s version of the hitman.
An equivalent amount of pathos ends each film, despite the differences in tone and content. This is very much enhanced by Peter Pau and Horace Wong’s outstanding camera-work Fan Kung Ming’s editing and Woo’s eye for a shot. There is a simple dolly move that starts an extraordinarily well done rooftop chase sequence that I had to rewind and watch two or three more times. Its timing ramps the tension and pace up smoothly and immediately. Similarly, in the final shootout, there is a shot of a white dove smothering a candle, a bit of foreshadowing of the death of the white-suited hitman. I’m really looking forward to watching Hard-Boiled, the next John Woo film in the Criterion list.