The Killer (1989)

Genres - Action, Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Action Thriller, Gangster Film, Buddy Film  |   Run Time - 111 min.  |   Countries - Hong Kong  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Lucia Bozzola

One of the high points of 1980s Hong Kong action cinema, The Killer (1989) is considered one of John Woo's most spectacularly assured examinations of honor among violent men on opposite sides of the law. In their operatic reinterpretation of Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai (1967), Woo and frequent star Chow Yun-Fat blend Melville's existential cool with the serious (and seriously violent) passion of Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, and Martin Scorsese, in a story about a hit man's crisis of conscience that pits old-fashioned notions of goodness against modern law enforcement. The artfully choreographed bloodshed becomes a sacrament, as the endless hail of bullets and bodies, particularly in the climactic church shootout, melodramatically heightens the physical cost of Jeff's doomed search for grace. A hit in Hong Kong, The Killer further bolstered Woo's reputation internationally and became the most popular Hong Kong film in the U.S. since Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon (1973). Woo's signature slow-motion action theatrics, face-to-face stand-offs, and two-fisted gunplay influenced numerous 1990s American action directors, most notably Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.