20. The Killer


The melodrama is down pat. The violence is bloody. The heroism is bold and emergent of unlikely but clearly likely places. Everything is in place. Perfect.

The Killer is frequently cited as John Woo’s best film, and it does season the above ingredients in his most balanced, satisfying way. It’s a classical story in a line with Le Samourai on one side, and A Bittersweet Life and Drive on the other, about the lone, existential hit man in for one last job.

But John Woo is less concerned with drifting and loneliness, particularly because the frame is never uninhabited. You need that rugby team in full force to be mowed down by Chow Yun Fat. It’s explosive Woo action in top form, and this is why I watch movies. The aesthetic he creates in bodies moving in slow motion, in Chow Yun Fat turning with a shotgun at a quarter speed, the punch-in of a guy flying back with an explosion in the background… No better argument for celluloid film is made than in the art Woo creates here.

Recreated in CG? You get Appleseed Ex Machina. You just can’t do guys with guns like this and get that richness of texture, the debris, the blood. It’s so goddamn beautiful, and perfect when supported by the appropriate story — not Paycheck, not Face/Off, maybe WindtalkersThe Killer is about a hit man with a heart of gold, and a cop with a code of honor.

It’s a romantic, sweeping epic, a night at the gun opera with an ending so melodramatic it’s nearly laughable. The brotherhood forged is much more powerful than the hetero relationship at the theoretical center of the movie, but this makes Chow Yun Fat no less charming and sympathetic.

Not much to say, really. It’s fun on the bun, John Woo at his most refined. The master of a form so rarely competently handled, and what a form. What a form.

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