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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again a little Woo goes a long way: The Killer (1989).

The Killer is a 1989 Hong Kong crime film written and directed by John Woo and starring Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee and Sally Yeh.  Chow is triad assassin Ah Jong, who accidentally damages the eyes of the Jennie (Sally Yeh) with his gun’s muzzle flash during one of his hits.  He later discovers that if Jennie does not have an expensive operation she will go blind.  To get the money for Jennie, Ah Jong decides to perform one last hit—and it will indeed be his last.

A police detective, Li Ying (Danny Lee), spots the assassin completing the job but he escapes.  Triad leader Hay Wong Hoi double crosses Ah Jong, and instead of paying him, sends a group of hitmen to kill him.  During Ah Jong’s escape from the Triad, a young child is injured by a stray bullet.  After dispatching the attackers, Ah Jong rushes the child to the hospital while being followed by Li and his partner Sgt. Tsang.  Once the child regains consciousness at the casualty ward, Ah Jong escapes Li and Tsang who becomes obsessed with Fat’s act of goodwill.

The detectives stakeout Jennie at her apartment and plan to arrest him the next time he visits her.  Ah Jong visits Jennie and is caught in an ambush from which he manages to scramble away.  Li and Tsang explain to Jennie that Ah Jong was the assassin who blinded her at the nightclub. Ah Jong meets with his Triad manager, Fung Sei (Chu Kong), and demands his payment for finishing the job.  Fung Sei brings a suitcase for Ah Jong, who discovers it to be filled with sheets of blank paper before finding himself in the middle of a Triad ambush.  He dispatches all of the Triads, but leaves his old friend Fung Sei alive.  The next day, after Fung Sei’s pleas for Wong Hoi fall on deaf ears, Ah Jong does a fantastic hit-and-run on Wong Hoi’s car, wounding the Triad leader and killing his driver and bodyguard.

Li begins to close-in on Ah Jong after Tsang follows Fung Sei; Tsang is killed after revealing the location of his home.  Because of their friendship, Fung Sei leaves a large stockpile of weaponry for Ah Jong.  The home is another ambush; Li is first to attack followed by a group of Triad hitmen. Li gets caught in the middle of the crossfire between Ah Jong and the Triad.  Ah Jong and Li flee, and while Ah Jong’s wounds are mended, they find themselves bonding and becoming friends– it seems strangers can make good bedfellows.  Ah Jong tells Li that should anything happen to him, Li should try to have Ah Jong’s eyes donated for Jennie’s surgery; otherwise, he is to use Ah Jong’s money to fly her overseas to have her surgery performed by more experienced doctors.

Li, Ah Jong, and Jennie wait in a church for Fung Sei to return with Ah Jong’s money.  Fung Sei arrives with the money, horribly beaten by Wong Hoi’s gangsters who have followed him.  He is mortally wounded when the hitmen barge into the church.  After Ah Jong ends Fung Sei’s misery, he and Li engage in a long and bloody shootout with the Triad all over the church. The battle ends with a Mexican standoff between Ah Jong, Li and Wong Hoi.  Ah Jong manages to wound Wong Hoi, but the Triad leader lands two bullets in Ah Jong’s eyes before the latter dies of his wounds.  When a police squadron arrives in the scene, Wong Hoi begs to be taken into custody.  Frustrated by the outcome of the battle, Li fatally shoots Wong Hoi before he himself is arrested.

The Killer is an important and influential film for both Western and Asian filmmakers.  Film scholars have noted the similarities between Woo’s style and The Killer with the films La Femme Nikita (1990) and Léon (1994) directed by French director Luc Besson.  Kenneth E. Hall described Léon as having the similar character configuration of a hitman and the person he protects. In Nikita, the main character’s crisis of conscience after performing a number of hits is also seen in The Killer.  And, not surprisingly, Quentin Tarantino developed films that were influenced by The Killer.  In the film Jackie Brown, Tarantino wrote dialog referencing The Killer.  No references to the film are made in the original novel.

The Killer was also influential in hip hop music.  American hip hop artist, and Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon released his critically praised debut album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. (1995) that sampled numerous portions of dialog from the film.  RZA, the producer of the album described the albums themes by stating that “Rae and Ghost was two opposite guys as far as neighborhoods were concerned, I used John Woo’s The Killer.  You got Chow Yun Fat and Danny Lee.  They have to become partners to work shit out.”  Woo apparently felt honored that the group sampled The Killer and asked for no monetary return from them.

Director John Woo has described The Killer as being about “honor and friendship,” “trying to find out if there is something common between two people” and as a “romantic poem.”  The structure of the film follows two men on the opposite side of the law who find a relation to each other in their opposition of a greater evil, Wong Hoi, the leader of the Triad.  The relationship between the two main characters was influenced by the Spy vs. Spy comics from Alfred E Newman’s Mad Magazine.  It is reported that Woo recalled “when I was young I was fascinated with the cartoon–I love it very much…the white bird and the black bird are always against each other, but deep in their heart, they are still friendly, and the idea came from that.”

Though the film received praise and box office success outside of Hong Kong, The Killer’s success around the world made several Hong Kong filmmakers jealous: “It created a certain kind of resentment in the Hong Kong film industry.  One thing I can say for sure is, the American, European, Japanese, Korean and even the Taiwanese audiences and critics appreciated The Killer a lot more than it was in Hong Kong.”

Naturally because of Hollywood’s lack of imagination, an American remake of the killer is in the works.  Director John H Lee will be remaking the film which is supposed to take place in Chinatown, Korea town and south-central Los Angeles.  Luckily, the remake will be produced by John Woo and is set to be filmed in 3-D.  Let’s be honest, a remake of John Woo’s The Killer was inevitable.  While this flick may not be as well-loved as Woo’s Hard Boiled it’s still a master class in acting, heroic bloodshed and ultra-violent gunplay.  Unfortunately, US audiences largely refuse to see films created in other countries probably because they can’t read subtitles not to mention anything starring a non-white actor, or, failing that, Will Smith, so it’s almost surprising that it’s taken this long for Hollywood to decide that the film ought to be recreated with a white lead and an American setting.

My guess is the remake will be a piece of film junk that only insults the original masterpiece created by Woo in the late 1980’s.  With any luck, however, it may be as good as the remake of Death of Samurai released last year.  But I’m not betting on it.

What can you say about this movie?  It was powerful, influential and ahead of its time much like many of John Woo’s films.  One of JPFMovies trademark sayings is “a little Woo goes a long way.”  Now imagine what a lot of Woo does and you’ve got The Killer.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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A Certain Killer (1967) Starring Ichikawa Raizo

Since I am STILL waiting for Bonnie to do her review here is a little known movie starring Ichikawa Raizo, A Certain Killer (1967).

A Certain Killer is a dark film in the “Le Samourai” vein, with Ichikawa Raizo playing a former kamikaze, now a restaurant chef and owner, who is slowly revealed to be working on the side as a cold, perfectionist hit man for two yakuza clans.  The main character (Raizo) is from the WW2 generation and has seen his dreams die in post-war Japan.  The movie opens with Raizo getting off a plane and hopping into a cab that takes him to the middle of what looks like an abandoned industrial field.  After looking around for a few minutes he begins to walk until he spots an obviously run down inn with rooms to rent.  Raizo (now wearing an eye-patch) rents the dirty, empty room from a nearly deaf lady and sits down to read the paper.  At this point the film begins to flash back to various scenes that lead up to his stay in the room.

First we Raizo eating along in a noodle shop while a young harlot is trying to sell her body in exchange for a bowl of noodles.  The cook wants nothing to do with her so when Raizo gets up to pay the bill he puts her meal on his check because he “does not want to see a woman sell her body that cheaply.”  While he is paying, the harlot sees the amount of cash he carries and begins to follow, nag and sell him out to her pimp.  He dispatches with the pimp but she continues to follow him to his restaurant where she chases off a nice young hard working Japanese girl by pretending to sleep with Raizo.

Then we get our first taste of his killing abilities.  He is hired to kills a Yakuza-boss who is constantly surrounded by 4 competent bodyguards.  Raizo manages to use a razor sharp needle to cut the obi of his target’s wife and when the bodyguards go to help her he inserts the tatami-needle at the base of his victim’s skull, killing him without a sound.  Raizo is paid twenty million yen for the job (in today’s currency about 2.1 million dollars) by the rival clan.

The harlot who will not leave him alone ends up sleeping with one of the clan’s henchmen that he just did the killing for.  He tells her about the twenty million yen and in their greed, they devise a plan to use Raizo to steal a drug shipment that the henchman knows about as well as to take his twenty million yen.

At this point we are pretty much caught up as Raizo looks out the window and we see the harlot running through the rain to get to the inn and meet up with Raizo.  While running, the harlot picks up the henchman and they both enter the room to wait.  Raizo the perfectionist scolds them for coming in together and makes them take the dinner garbage out separately so that no one will know that three people have been there.  Raizo gives the henchman a gun and they prepare for the heist.

At 3:00 am Raizo wakes up the harlot and the henchman and they set off to the place where the drug deal is going to take place.  Meanwhile the henchman has already dug Raizo’s grave in a garbage pit.  After they snatch the drugs, the henchman and the harlot make their move and try to shoot Raizo.  The gun is empty and Raizo asks if they think he is a fool knowing they would pull a stunt because when he was working as the junior on several jobs he thought of the same thing but never acted on it.  When they go outside to leave, they are confronted by the henchman’s clan, and the henchman is told that he now has a big problem because he is doing deals behind his boss’ back.

Our three robbers get into a good fight with their opponents but win out.  However, during the fight, some of the drug canisters are kicked into the stream and you sort of lose track of the rest.  Once they defeat the yakuza-clan the henchman is so impressed with Raizo that he wants to be his pupil.  Raizo declines and when pressed for an explanation, states “he doesn’t like a man who can’t tell the job from the romance,” whereupon he unzips his bag and pull out four canisters of the drugs, tells the henchman to split them with the harlot and then walks off.  The henchman, still standing there, is asked by the harlot if she can go with him and the answer is no because “women don’t know the difference between the job and the romance” — and he proceeds to walk away without the drugs as well.  The harlot then exclaims that she does not need him because she is going to find a new partner and makes lots of money anyway walking off—also leaving the drugs (it looks like she didn’t see them in plain sight).=320

Raizo gives a memorable performance in a role outside of his usual traditional historical film – he can ordinarily be found as a wandering ronin/antihero in (for instance) the Sleepy Eyes of Death series or the Shinobe No Mono movies (he was in 7 out of 8 of them) playing the famous ninja Goemon Ishikawa.  This story was good and based on a hard-boiled crime novel, “The Night Before,” by Fujiwara Shinji.  With little, but pointed, dialogue, sparing use of color, and an interesting penchant for objective longshot, A Certain Killer is an important rediscovery by one of Japanese cinema’s “kings of the Bs,” Kazuo Mori (1911-1989), who inspired Nagisa Oshima with the inherent rebellion of his daring constructions. Oshima said, “I was shocked to discover that the rage and hatred the world inspired in me at the time could be expressed so beautifully and powerfully by the cinema.”

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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