The Killer

When it comes to gunplay, Schwarzenegger and Hollywood's other testosterone titans had better make room for Hong Kong's Chow Yun-Fat. At thirty-four, Chow is Asia's biggest star. He's made hundreds of films, a dozen in 1988 alone, but The Killer is the first to crack the U.S. market.

In his role as Jeff -- a hit man in dark shades -- Chow is the quintessence of cool detachment. During the first shootout, in a nightclub, Jeff wastes an army of hoods without undue muss or fuss. But when he unintentionally blinds the club singer Jennie (Sally Yeh), he is conscience-stricken. Vowing to quit crime, Jeff agrees to one more hit to pay for Jennie's operation.

Writer-director John Woo lets scenes of ferocious violence and egregious sentiment collide in ways both appalling and hilarious. In the final gun battle, set in a church, Chow and his cop buddy Lee (Danny Lee) call each other Dumbo and Mickey Mouse, but they make the Wild Bunch look like wimps. Woo's penchant for balletic brutality -- often in slow motion to catch every spatter of blood -- recalls the films of Sam Peckinpah. But Woo cares little for subtlety. There's no buildup; it's like a porno flick with nothing but come shots. Despite the dizzying thrills, The Killer falls victim to overkill.

From The Archives Issue 582: July 12, 1990
x