ALPHABET MOVIE CLUB: The Killer
WEEK 11- "K"
Nominees: The Killer, King of Comedy, King Kong, The Kite Runner, Kramer vs. Kramer
Winner: The Killer
Background: Before action director John Woo took his swings in Hollywood with Hard Target, Broken Arrow, Face/Off, Mission: Impossible 2, Windtalkers, and Paycheck, he was a legend in Hong Kong cinema. His A Better Tomorrow got him noticed and the boost in financing became The Killer in 1989. The film has become a dynamic cult hit in both Hong Kong and the United States and an stylish influence to action filmmakers to this day.
Starring his early muse, Chow Yun-Fat (who also translated his success here and later in Hard Boiled to a broader Western audience), two-gun slinging master Triad assassin Ah Jong is ensnared to pulling off "one last job" for the organization. When the hit goes bad and he's responsible for accidentally blinding an innocent nightclub singer named Jennie (Sally Yeh), his regret grows when he continuously checks up on her and protects her in the days and weeks that follow. He feels responsible for her current state, falls for her, and wants to help her regain her eyesight.
To make money for the necessary surgery, Jong takes yet another "one last job" assassinating a political official. This draws the attention of the authorities, led by detective Li Ying (Danny Lee), who are hot on his trail. With the heat on him, the Triads double-cross Jong and sent a hit squad to take him out instead of pay him. Jong guns his way past both the cops and the gangsters, but a pair of showdowns between Jong and Ying and Jong and the Triads are inevitable. Along the way, we learn the honor and friendship possible between two opposites.
As I mentioned before, The Killer has been a big influence on action directors for years. You can see homages to both its highly stylized action, two-pistol antics, and tragic-killer-with-a-conscience storyline in American movies like Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill double feature and Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi trilogy (which includes Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico) and French movies like Nikita and Leon: The Professional. Doves and all, John Woo's The Killer is a watershed mark for action, no matter the country of origin. When you realize that this movie came out just a year after Die Hard, you appreciate the advanced eye for action that Woo has.
Reaction: FIVE STARS-- Let me just say this generality, right up front. I'm a man. I'm genetically programmed to enjoy movies built like The Killer. Guys like me love over-the-top and gaudy action to the point where we find ourselves imitating the action when we think no one is looking. Guys like me are the ones that still make silly pistols with sound effects out of our fingers and do martial arts moves spoken to tough guy movie quotes in the bathroom mirror.
Because I'm just that kind of man, I love The Killer and John Woo's kind of movies. Chow Yun-Fat was awesome and seeing him young here makes me appreciate him more than how Hollywood has sought to misuse his talent. Over-the-top movies like these bleed as much implausibility as bodily fluid, but that's not what you watchThe Killer for. You come for the action and a good time. Just let my lessons speak for more reactions and appreciation.
LESSON #1: A BAD GUY IS NOT FULLY DEAD UNLESS YOU SHOOT HIM FIVE TIMES-- Never mind Zombieland's Rule #2 of a "double tap." Ah Jong seems to require the "quintuple tap." It's like he's playing "Hangman" with bullets and isn't finished until all the main body parts are shot.
LESSON #2: HONG KONG PISTOLS RARELY NEED RELOADING-- I did see Chow Yun-Far reload (just once before the final onslaught), but I sure counted more than 15 shots a clip and even that's generous. All in good fun!
LESSON #3: ALL MOVIE BAD GUYS NEED TO PUT IN SOME EXTRA TIME AT THE SHOOTING RANGE-- Want to know why Ah Jong is a bad ass? He shoots straight. The accuracy issues of his adversaries in this movie is monumentally bad. They empty gun after gun and rarely hit anything but empty space and random furniture. As the great "Crash" Davis taunts in Bull Durham, they "couldn't hit water if they fell out of a f--king boat." Go sign up for some practice time, boys, before you become another random movie casualty or Hong Kong "Red Shirt."
LESSON #4: HOT BLIND CHICKS ARE EASY ROMANTIC TARGETS-- And she sings too! How convenient she can't see that you're the asshole that made her blind. Enjoy your wiffleball-easy lay. Ben Affleck and The Town owes this movie a small debt of gratitude. At least he tells her the truth... eventually.
LESSON #5: BAD FACIAL HAIR PROSTHETICS ARE FULL PROOF MOVIE DISGUISES-- The dedicated hunters of Ah Jong are as bad at seeing through a simple mustache as Lois Lane is looking past a pair of hipster glasses on a tall and muscular news journalist with a granite chin.
LESSON #6: HOW TO CAUTERIZE A WOUND WITHOUT MEDICAL CARE-- They have stolen a bit of this from 1988's Rambo III, but an emptied shotgun shell and the cigarette you light and finish afterwards is a nice touch.
LESSON #7: FLYING BIRDS MAY LOOK COOL, BUT THEY REALLY GET IN THE WAY-- Damn pigeons! Damn doves! And they shit all over the place too, something the camera doesn't show.
LESSON #8: WEIGH THE RISK AND REWARD OF THAT "ONE LAST JOB" SCENARIO-- Alright, enough fun. Time for a trio of real lessons. Ah Jong is an "old ways" elder Triad assassin in a changing world. His methods are no longer valid. Like so many other "one last job" plot scenarios in movies, he has his many chances to walk away, but the deeper the job goes the more he loses for seemingly small reward.
LESSON #9: A KILLER WITH A CODE OF HONOR IS A KILLER WITH A FLAW, BUT A GOOD ONE-- Ah Jong, while extremely good at his job, has clear weaknesses of the heart for family, honor, and a lady's love. A true killer has no attachments and no discernible and exploitable weaknesses like that. To quote a Dos Equis beer commercial, Jong is "a lover not a fighter, but he's also a fighter so don't get any ideas."
LESSON #10: RESPECTING YOUR COMPETITIVE EQUAL-- As the movie goes on, Ah Jong and Li Ying size each other up, duel in battle, dodge each other's pursuits, flex their strengths, trade nicknames and barbs, and soon, despite their opposite sides of the law, learn to respect what the other stands for in worth and honor. Neither gentleman wants to become the other and switch sides, but they find mutual respect.