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.

3 thoughts on “The Killer

  1. i’ve seen this movie at the cin­e­math­eque about ten years ago or not long af­ter “re­sevoir dogs” came out.

    there were many then say­ing that tar­inti­no stole a bunch of scenes from that movie.

  2. Interestingly enough, Woo and Tarantino are both huge fans of Jean-Pierre Melville. Part of the re­cent resur­gence in in­ter­est of Melville’s films is due to the fact that Woo and Tarantino talk about him so much. I’m not sure if Tarantino stole a bunch of scenes from The Killer, but I’m not sur­prised that peo­ple would think so, con­sid­er­ing Melville’s in­flu­ence. Cinema is so in­ces­tu­ous. Heh.

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