Like most classic films, John Woo's most ambitious HK project (before Bullet In The Head) has it's fair share of problems before the film made it to the silver screen. Unlike Woo's previous HK films,it took two talented action choreographers (Ching Siu Tung and Lau Chi Ho) as well as two cinematographers (Wong Wing Hang and Peter Pau Tak Hei) to helped bring Woo's vision to life.
The Killer however would ultimately proved to be the film that caused the rift that eventually split the lucrative partnership of director John Woo and producer Tsui Hark. Upon reading Woo's script,Tsui had little interest in producing the film citing the outdated plot as a key factor. In fact Tsui lashed out that the film had no commercial value and is no different than the millions of A Better Tomorrow carbon-copies out there. It took actor Chow Yun fat's strong insistence on starring in the film before the project was finally green-lighted. However producer Tsui Hark still insisted that the film was not a good idea and distanced himself from the shooting preferring to over-see his other projects at that time. When Tsui actually took part in the production of the film, he barred several of Woo's initial ideas for the film. For example, Woo envisioned the start of the film to be a flashback sequence where Jeff is playing a saxophone in the bar, re-telling the entire incident how Jennie was blinded. Producer Tsui Hark didn't think that HK audiences would be interested in jazz music and scrapped the idea. Woo however eventually put the saxophone introduction in his final HK film, Hard Boiled.
Chow Yun Fat initially suggested that Chu Kong should play the role of the cop but Woo felt that the actor was a bit too old for the role. They both agreed on Danny Lee who seems to have a perchant for playing righteous policeman at that time. Chu Kong also ended up with a memorable supporting role playing a retired hitman who moonlight as Jeff's manager. The Killer became a moderate success in HK upon initial release but proved to be a massive hit on the overseas film circuit. Once critical plaudits began rolling in, Tsui attempted to claim the film as his own. Indeed many of the early film publications credited the film as a Tsui Hark film. By the time credit was paid where due the rift had divided the two and irreparable damage had been done. Woo's attempt to develop a prequel to his A Better Tomorrow series fell on deaf ears and disgusted with whole situation producer Terence Chang pulled Woo out of his contract to form John Woo Productions company in 1990.
The final gunfight of The Killer staged within a church is a testament of Woo's dedication to his art. 20 minutes of film became a 60 day shoot unheard of in the HK film industry outside the works of Jackie Chan. Woo's action design coupled with coupled with Ching Siu Tung's peerless choreography helped make the climax quite possible one of the most intense experiences of modern action cinema. Chow Yun Fat took his own fair share of carnage on board when an explosive charge nearly cost him an eye. His face scarred and eye filled with blood, he completed the shot before crew members rushed him to the nearest hospital.
The story centres around Jeff(Chow Yun Fat), a professional killer with a heart of gold. During a hit, he accidentally blinds a night club singer, Jennie(Sally Yeh). The scene took place in a bar and once again showcase Woo's flair at choreographing action scenes as this one was beautifully done. Feeling sorry, he soon befriends her and eventually falls in love with her.
Meanwhile, hard-boiled cop Eagle (Danny Lee) is hot on his trail. The two soon confront each other following an excellent speed-boat chase after an assassination by Jeff. Eagle helps Jeff saves a injured little girl and soon begins to understand the killer, Jeff. The two have much in common but are on different side of the law. Jeff and Eagle are reluctant to be friends at the beginning because of their different professionals but soon realised that them must stick together in order to survive because the another mobster wants Jeff dead for being spotted on the job.
The movie's finale took place in a church where all hell's breaks loose when hired assassins comes gunning down for both Jeff and Eagle. John Woo decided to break all the rules and made a tragic ending rather than your average Hollywood-feel-good ending.
The Killer is one movie no John Woo fan or rather action movie buff would want to miss, as it has everything a John Woo fan could ever ask for:a solid cast, great action sequences and a gripping plot.Proving once again there is no one line that separates good and evil, director John Woo craves out two unlikely heroes from killer Jeff and good cop Eagle.
On one hand, Jeff may seem like a ruthless killer who kills people for money but deep inside, he is a tortured individual having to carry out a duty which he can no longer morally justify to himself to fulfil a personal obligation.
Eagle played by Danny Lee on the other hand, is a man of righteous honour who faces much difficulties in carrying out his duty as a cop. Wonderfully display in an early scene, Eagle and partner Chang expresses their unhappiness over having to protect a VIP Tony Weng whom they consider a "scum".
Like every other John Woo picture, The Killer showcases some of the best shoot-outs I have ever seen.Beginning with the shoot-out in the night-club, director John Woo continue to fuse action with drama to perfection, right to the movie's final shoot-out at the church where Jeff and Eagle have to face an army of hired assassins in order to stay live.
Despite being John Woo best film to date, I did find a little flaw in The Killer: the villain. The villain, Johnny Wong lacks a real motif to kill Jeff. Think for a minute, why would an big-shot triad boss like him waste so much time and effort to rub off a killer like Jeff ?
Also the fact that the character was played by an actor with limited acting skills didn't help. A solid actor like Waise Lee who carried the role of Ah Shing wonderfully in A Better Tomorrow would have made the movie much better.
Anyhow, The Killer is one movie that deserves to be in every John Woo fan's collection.