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Issue #147a HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES February 17th, 2003

The Killer
(1989; Cinema City/Golden Princess/Magnum/Film Workshop)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Dip huet seung hung
Mandarin: Die xie shuang xiong
English: A Pair of Blood-Splattering Heroes

While performing a contract job in a nightclub, suave professional assassin Jong (Chow Yun-fat) accidentally injures singer Jenny (Sally Yeh Chian-wen), who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Plagued by guilt, he makes it his duty to look after the all-but blind woman but stops short of revealing to her just who he is. Fed up with the business, Jong wants to quit but decides to pull one more hit for triad boss Wong Hoi (Shing Fui-on), before taking Jenny abroad for a cornea transplant. However, upon performing the killing, Jong is betrayed by his middleman, Sei (Paul Chu Kong), under orders from Wong. While he has every reason to kill Sei, Jong spares him out of friendship. One of the cops assigned to protect the man Jong just murdered, Inspector Lee (Danny Lee Sau-yin) gets onto the killer's trail quickly and gains significant ground by befriending Jenny, without disclosing his identity or intentions to her. After an initial confrontation results in Jong's escape, Lee manages to catch Jong and Jenny together but, before he can take them into custody, a small army of assassins appear and the trio barely escape with their lives. The incident cements a growing mutual respect between the killer and the policeman that blossoms into intense camaraderie when the two men lose their best friends to Wong's gunmen and must fight for their lives against wave after wave of heavily armed opponents.

Inspired by Jean-Pierre Melville's 1967 classic LE SAMOURAI (released in America in a dubbed and truncated version called THE GODSON) and possessing roots in the classic Chinese swordplay dramas of director John Woo's mentor, Chang Cheh, THE KILLER is a rapturous mixture of ripe melodrama, elegant introspection, vivid characterizations, intoxicating style, and incredible, over-the-top gunplay, all framed by Woo's distinctive views of honor and male bonding. Moving, exciting, tragic, noble, and wonderfully unself-conscious, this is the archetypal gangster tragedy kinetically reinvented by a master filmmaker and anchored by one of Chow Yun-fat's most iconic performances. Lowell Lo Kwun-ting contributes a fine score but cues lifted from the Hollywood films RED HEAT and HERO AND THE TERROR (both 1988) can still be detected by perceptive viewers. Taiwanese prints run an extra 25 minutes, fleshing out the characters but compromising the pacing. However, if you are deeply impressed with the HK cut, this version is still well worth seeing, if only to reveal how Woo tightened and improved this, his finest achievement to date. Kenneth Tsang Kong, Ricky Yee Fan-wai, Yip Wing-cho, Barry Wong Ping-yiu, Tommy Wong Kwong-leung, Parkman Wong Pak-man, and Lam Chung also appear.

Cover art courtesy Hong Kong Legends.

Paul Chu and Chow Yun-fat. Image courtesy Hong Kong Legends.

Danny Lee. Image courtesy Hong Kong Legends.
Medusa/Hong Kong Legends #MDV 784 (British label)

Dolby Digital 5.1

Cantonese and English Language Tracks (both post-synched)

Optional English Subtitles

34 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With (Tiny) Stills

Enhanced for 16:9 Displays

Letterboxed (1.75:1)

Coded for Region 2 Only

Macrovision Encoded

PAL Format

107 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Contains brutal violence

DVD menu courtesy Hong Kong Legends.

Australia: R
British Columbia: R (Frequent Violence)
Chile: 18
Finland: K-18
France: 16
Great Britain: 18
Netherlands: 16
New Zealand: R
Norway: 18
Nova Scotia: 18 (Extreme Violence)
Ontario: R (Brutal Violence, May Offend Some)
Singapore: PG [Passed With Cuts]
Sweden: BANNED
West Germany: 18

Note: While most American releases of this title offer the complete HK edition, there is also a heavily cut R-rated version created for an alternate VHS release through Fox Lorber. Needless to say, it should be avoided at all costs.

THE KILLER is an easy title to find on DVD but Hong Kong Legends has given it a spotless new 16:9 transfer that puts the competing English subtitled discs to shame. There is a slight jump caused by missing frames at 32:03 and minor grain can be seen in a few set-ups but the image otherwise looks excellent. Compared to the Criterion DVD, there is a bit less picture on all four sides of the frame, with the HKL image having been slightly blown up. The effect is not really damaging but a bit frustrating nonetheless. The 5.1 re-mix is okay; the sound field is decent but little is done with the rears or the bass. On the one hand, purists will be grateful that the movie has not been subjected to a slipshod overhaul, like the early Celestial titles. On the other, the original mono track has not been included, marring an otherwise reverent presentation. HKL's new English translation is an improvement over both the original HK subtitles and the ones created for the U.S. release; the British subs are more comprehensive and the characters are finally presented with their proper Chinese names. The American DVDs from Criterion and Fox Lorber feature different Woo commentaries but HKL has enlisted Bey Logan to handle their release. He reiterates some of Woo's earlier comments but also comes up with a lot of fresh data about the performers, the locations, etc. He even took the time to come up with the movie's body count: 120! (Logan does make a couple of errors, misidentifying Ricky Yee Fan-wai as Ng Siu-hung, and getting the HK David Wu mixed up with his like named Taiwanese counterpart).

Kenneth Tsang (left), Sally Yeh (centre), Peter Pau (right).
Above images have ZOOM links. Click on picture for large image. Images courtesy Hong Kong Legends.

The Interview Gallery is always a treat on HKL discs and, although Woo, Chow, and Lee did not participate, we do get input from Kenneth Tsang, Sally Yeh, and co-cinematographer Peter Pau. Tsang has many kind words for Woo and his methods, as well as praise for Chow and Lee. Yeh (who does not appear to have aged more than a year of two since filming) talks about how she got into the business and some of the difficulties and injuries she sustained making the picture. Pau (who only worked on the first seven days, at which point Woo's original choice, Horace Wong Wing-hang, finished a prior commitment and became available) talks about the sequences he did and how Woo's methods contrast with most HK directors. Five sequences from the Taiwanese version (Mandarin with burned-in English subs) are also on offer and they make one wish that this entire version had also been included (it can be obtained on the French double disc release from HK Video). As you would expect, the excerpts look far inferior to the main transfer. The image is dark and smeary, and the chapters have not been correctly flagged, playing back vertically squashed. The original HK trailer and UK video promo spot are also available, along with spots for six other recent HKL releases. There is a smooth layer change at 1:28:56 and the cover art is reversible (image).

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