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The Killer (1989)

REVIEWS - Movie Reviews


In only four years from now, the English are gonna hand over Hong Kong to the Commies.

Do you understand this?

I don't get it.

Like Red China is this great democratic country that honors all its agreements. What kind of British judge came up with this idea? It's like you decide to borrow your brother's Mercedes for four years, but after two years some guy named Sal kills your brother, steals his house and takes over his business, then he calls you up and says, "Now DON'T FORGET ABOUT GIVING THAT MERCEDES BACK!" And so, if you're British, you go, "Right--a DEAL'S a DEAL!"

It's not like THESE are the guys they made the deal with, right?

Anyhow, the only reason I'm so ticked off about it is that, even though the Red China government keeps saying, "Not to worry, we'll take care of everything JUST THE WAY IT IS," I know one thing that will vanish IMMEDIATELY as soon as the Commissars hoist their hineys across that bridge:

Kung Fu movies.

They're gone. It's over. Hasta la Won Ton.

The great Shaw Brothers Studios, which produced thousands of movies for all of Asia, are already winding down and looking for a new home. Guys like Jackie Chan are checking their passports. Anybody who makes a living as a stunt coordinator, staging those shootouts where a guy gets blasted with three shotguns at once, explodes into three pieces, sails eight stories out of an office building, and lands in an empty concrete swimming pool--those guys will be heading to Bangkok.

And the weird thing about it is, this is the year when middle America started discovering the REAL Hong Kong films in a big way.

I know I know, we had that brief period in the early seventies when Bruce Lee was god of the universe, but most of his classics, like "Enter the Dragon," were actually made by American studios. What I'm talking about is the pure chopsocky, with sub-titles, dubbed "thwack" sounds, and trampoline somersaults in every shootout, brawl, or car chase, which is about, oh, every five minutes.

But this year there's been such an overwhelming interest in Hong Kong action flicks that there is now a travelling festival of 14 Chinese movies directed at NON-CHINESE audiences. "Festival Hong Kong" premiered in December at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles, part of the Landmark chain, and is moving on to 20 more American cities, including Berkeley, Houston, Cambridge, Mass., Milwaukee, Minneapolis, San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego and New York City. Films included in the tour include "Hardboiled," "A Chinese Ghost Story," and "Peking Opera Tours." And mainly it's hitting college towns as an experiment by Golden Harvest, which has been the main distributor of Chinese films in American Chinatowns for many years.

Anyhow, the film that got this whole trend started is "The Killer," which came out three years ago and is now finally making it onto video in a big way. "The Killer" is already on the all-time top ten drive-in list, and is probably the reason the Commies will kick the filmmakers out of Kong. Hollywood discovered it about a year ago and bought the rights so they can remake it with Richard Gere. John Woo, the director, had made 22 other movies in Hong Kong, but this one made him so famous that he got a fat Hollywood contract, and just got finished shooting a Jean Claude Van Damme flick down in New Orleans.

"The Killer," in other words, is the new standard in chopsocky.

Basically what we got here is a hitman, working for a gangster, who hires another hitman to kill a South American drug dealer, and the only reason the guy takes the job is to pay for an eye operation for the beautiful nightclub singer who got blinded on his LAST hitman job and who he's now in love with, only she doesn't know he's a hitman. So the guy takes the job, but after it's done, the gangster decides to send a six-man hit squad to kill the hitman who did the job, but without telling the hitman who hired him. But when the hitman gets away anyway, the gangster sends the hitman who hired him, to do a hit on him, and he tries to do it, only the original hitman is smarter than he is, and instead of killing him, he makes friends with him. Meanwhile, there's this cop who's trying to kill both hitmen AND the gangster, and he gets kinda fascinated with the hitman's "nobility," and so when it comes time to kill him . . . whew! This is gonna take forever.

All you need to know is, this movie has shootout scenes that would make Sam Peckinpah feel like a total wimp.

One hundred twenty-seven dead bodies. Forty-seven million rounds of automatic-weapons fire. Four motor vehicle chases, with crash-and-burn. Gunshoot-wound cauterization. Exloding shack. Exploding car. Burning church. Kung Fu. Drive-In Academy Award nominations for Chow Yun Fat, as the harmonica-playing Killer, for saying "I felt someone walk over my grave" and "I've changed--I don't want to kill"; Danny Lee, as the police inspector who becomes a friend of the killer, for saying "He's heroic in manner--he doesn't look like a killer"; Sally Yeh, as the beautiful blind night-club singer, who says "I sing for him"; Chu Kong, as the reformed hitman who travels through hell to help The Killer, for saying "I did it for you, Jeff, the only friend I ever had"; and John Woo, the writer and director, for doing it the old-fashioned way, just in time to escape the Communist Menace.

Four stars.



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