January 10, New York: It was a real gift to American cinema that Hong Kong let us borrow John Woo. He helped redefine action films as a cinematographer’s game, not just the domain of the special effects unit. Added to explosions and gunshots came perfectly composed, gorgeous shots of men holding guns. You only have to look to the latest Bond film to see how far this trend has come.
But of all the films I’ve seen of Woo’s, The Killer from his Hong Kong days is still my favorite. Great, simple story; catchy ballad of a theme song; and holy crap could Chow Yun-Fat be any cooler with those two handguns blazing? It’s incredible how quickly the premise is laid out; what would be called the first act by Aristotelian definition is completed in all of ten minutes. Jenny’s blind, our hero loves her, the triad is scheming against him.
Then there is the cinematography. You see it here in two ways. First is that Woo chooses incredible Hong Kong backdrops for his scenes. The dragon boat festival, for example, is visually stunning. The soaring mountain/city vistas or the lush, bleached beaches. Second is that Woo knows here the fuck to put a camera. You know this from his later films, but here you see it in glimpses of genius. The surprise of a camera’s vantage where you would normally not see through it, creating a perfect composition in space of man and gun and background.
Sure, it’s violent and sometimes silly and more bullets are fired in this film than I think were manufactured in whatever year it was made, but goddamnit The Killer is so cool.
I had to buy this as a DVD and have it shipped to me, surprisingly.