The Killer

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #8: John Woo’s The Killer.


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.

HK Cin­e­ma review
Blood Lines: The cin­e­mat­ic sens­es of John Woo.
The Cri­te­ri­on Contraption’s review.