XL Popcorn – The Killer

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 703/1007Title: Dip huet seung hung (The Killer)
Director: John Woo
Year: 1989
Country: Hong Kong

Action films can be extremely hit and miss for me. The last time that I saw an action film that excited me was Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia and that was 9 months ago. Since then I’ve seen some good ones (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin) and a few duds (Top Gun), but trust a Hong Kong action film to break the trend.

Honestly I should not have been surprised. After all, I did enjoy Peking Opera Blues and  A  Chinese Ghost Story. Also, I did enjoy watching John Woo’s take on the Chi Bi  a few years ago – so I know he’s up to the task. What I did not expect was just how amazing this film would be… and how much it made me long for a sequel to the 2012 video game Sleeping Dogs.

Watching The Killer is to watch a movie that went on to inspire the last 30 years of action movies. Without the slow motion gun fights, I doubt we’d have ‘bullet time’ in The Matrix. Similarly, the dance-like gun fighting sequences (where the blood and body counts are extremely high) are known to have inspired a lot of work done by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez. Whilst I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that this film was the first to do a lot of these things, but boy did it do them well.

The story itself is a nesting doll of betrayal and killing with the unlikely (and yet somehow perfect) respectful friendship forming between an assassin and the police officer who has vowed to kill him. The central through line is the assassin (Chow Yun-Fat, who is exceptional) who has done one final job to help pay for an operation of a singer that got injured in the crossfire of his previous job. Everything in this film happens because of him trying to make this right… even if it does mean him assassinating a Triad boss.

Where a lot of action films can pack the film with so much killing that it becomes tiresome, The Killer knows when to shut up and let the story take it’s course. Similarly there are no stupid one-liners, instead there are proper moments of character development – which has huge pay-offs during the final gun fight at the church. Did it help that the central relationship between the cop an the assassin (although unintended by the actors and director) play as slightly homoerotic? Maybe a bit, but I think that’s what you get in a lot of action movies.

Sure The Killer is unrelentingly eighties, but that’s not always a bad thing. It helped make Manhunter feel stylish and of the time and it does the same with The Killer. I hope I have more action movies like this in the remaining ~300 films on the list.


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