Here’s a formula to know: John Woo + slow motion + doves + guns = excellence. Woo has over the years become synonymous with Hong Kong action films, and action in general. When talking about his movies, two generally come up when debating over his masterpiece. There’s a group who will say Hard Boiled is his best. The second group will defend The Killer for the number one spot. Which side am I on? Let’s take a look.
Ah Jong (Chow Yun-Fat) is an expert assassin working for the Chinese Triads. After a hit takes a sour turn and a beautiful lounge singer (Sally Yeh) damages her corneas from the violence, Jong feels responsibility for her. It doesn’t take long for the Triads to realize that Ah Jong has compromised his identity, and soon betray him. Amidst the gunfire and bloodshed stands Detective Li Ying (Danny Lee) who is determined to bring the mysterious assassin to justice all the while becoming more and more intrigued in with his motives.
What can I say about John Woo films? They’re totally awesome, and The Killer proves it. You don’t see action movies like this anymore. This movie doesn’t care how realistic it is nor does it want you to take it too seriously. Hundreds of people fall to the barrage of bullets this movie has to offer, and it couldn’t be more fun. Still, the movie is serious at points and offers some really intense scenes of drama that will leave you thinking long after the movie is over. It’s fun, dramatic, and unpredictable all at the same time.
It was actually really surprising how The Killer affected me emotionally. I went in expecting a huge shoot ’em up without too much depth, but just enough to get by. That’s what Hard Boiled is like. There definitely is good drama in it, but nothing that matches The Killer. It almost plays like a Shakespearean tragedy with tortured heroes who seem to be spelling out their own downfalls. They all recognize their faults and what they have done wrong in their lives and honorably try to fix them. It adds layers to characters who would otherwise be pretty stereotypical. Of course, the performances also help bring the characters to life, and not just the writing and directing. Chow Yun-Fat is especially great, as always. The only detraction is that some of the writing doesn’t translate very well and definitely comes off as way too melodramatic at points.
But don’t go into this movie thinking it’s just a drama because when the bullets start flying, you’ll remember that you’re watching one of the best action films to ever be made. The guns sound excellent and this was thankfully made in a time when squibs were still the norm and digital blood wasn’t even thought of yet. The body count in this movie is outrageous. The elongated action scenes literally just have henchman after henchman charging at our heroes only to have them be dropped in slow motion with doves flying across the scene just to make sure it’s as cool looking as possible.
If I were to rank The Killer and Hard Boiled, I’d still have to put Hard Boiled on top. The Killer is a lot more dramatic, but Hard Boiled‘s action scenes are just out of this world. Don’t get me wrong, the action in this film is also great, but sometimes the pacing just slows down a bit too much. At least when it does slow down we are treated to an excellent storyline where we really want our heroes to pull through. You can also observe how this movie has inspired contemporary film makers like Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, and the Wachowskis. The Killer will truly go down as one of the best action films ever made, and is a whole lot better than anything we may have seen recently.