Having accidentally blinded a singer during a contract killing, hit man extraordinaire Chow Yun-Fat, consumed with guilt, becomes the woman’s protector, and seeks redemption by finding some way to restore her sight. Meanwhile, Danny Lee is the plays-by-his-own-rules cop on his trail, and inevitably the two men will find themselves as unlikely allies in gigantically operatic gunfights.
I can remember when John Woo was still a name whispered with reverence by cult film fans, and his films were only available on grey market VHS or import laser disc. In fact, I first saw The Killer on one such disc, in Cantonese with Mandarin subtitles, reading a transcription of a translation, desperately trying to grasp the gist of the action. It was worth the effort, though, for I had never seen action sequences like these. Today, of course, the situation is very different. Woo’s films are readily available, Hard-Boiled‘s sequel is a video game (Stranglehold), and his stylistic characteristics have become clichés. The passage of time and over-familiarity have arguably robbed the film of some of its power, while making the OTT sentimentality harder to take, but the fact remains that this is still a seminal moment in action filmmaking.
I mentioned the passage of time, and that is even more clearly felt in the technical aspects of this release. The colours are good, as are flesh tones, blacks and contrasts, but the print is a bit grainy, and artifacting is very noticeable. Thus, the movie looks like a historical piece, looking older, in fact, than other releases of the same (or earlier) era. You will be transported back to 1989, whether you wish it or not.
And more of the same situation here. On the positive side, though the case indicates the sound is mono, it is actually 2.0 surround. A very active surround it is, too, with enormously active score and surround effects. Perhaps too much so, as the music pouring out of the rear speakers overwhelms the front. The age of the track is apparent, however, and manifests itself primarily through dialogue sibilance.
All of the extras are on Disc 2.
Deleted Scenes: Five of them.
Interview with John Woo: (23:46) Among the interesting elements here, Woo discusses the North American reaction to his style, and how Hard Target‘s preview audience laughed at aspects that worked just fine worldwide in The Killer.
American Cinematheque Q&A on The Killer: (34:59) A live session with Woo after a screening of the film.
American Cinematheque Q&A on Hard-Boiled: (11:34).
The Killer Location Report: (8:46) A tour through Hong Kong, revisiting the settings from the film.
Trailers: Two for The Killer, plus ones for Last Hurrah for Chivalry (a new one on me, this), A Better Tomorrow and Hard-Boiled.
Is it Woo’s masterpiece? That’s hard question. I myself would plump for Hard-Boiled‘s claim to that title. But there is no denying this movie’s enormous importance. I don’t think the extras needed to be on a separate disc, however.