Viking Night: The Killer
By Bruce Hall
June 15, 2016
If you grew up in the 1990s, and you fall into that demographic we now call “nerds” or “fanboys”, you're probably well acquainted with John Woo. You know that guy who spent last weekend boring you with all the ways the Warcraft movie changed this or that? Remember back in 2001 when he wouldn't shut up about how they left Tom Bombadil out of Lord of the Rings? Well, this is the same pretentious blowhard who spent the early '90s bragging about some guy named John Woo. You know how some people can't enjoy a movie without getting it into their head that it belongs to them and no one else?
So they brag and brag and brag about having seen it?
Maybe it happens less than it used to, since John Woo movies are no longer hard to find, as they were back in the day. With no Netflix to monopolize your weekends and no BitTorrent to fill your computer with Russian viruses, you had to know just the right guy at just the right video store to get your hands on all the latest and greatest from Hong Kong. Hollywood sure as hell noticed, though, and was taking cues from Woo as early as 1986's Cobra, where Sly Stallone learns that it takes more than sticking a match in your mouth if you want to be Chow Yun-Fat.
Speaking of Chow Yun-Fat, he was already a huge star in China and had worked with Woo before when they collaborated on Woo's magnum opus, 1989's The Killer. If you're younger than a certain age, you may never have heard of it. In fact, you might not even know who this “John Woo” guy is, either. Woo walked away from American cinema some time ago, a victim of the very Hollywood desire to want the same success as someone else without having to take any of the risks that made them successful. Books can and have been written on this, but suffice it to say that what made Woo's films what they were did not translate well to Western screens.
As someone who considers themselves a fan, I'll admit now that the first 20 minutes can be a bit of a challenge to the newly initiated. What's dramatic or moving to an audience in Hong Kong might not go over the same way on this side of the planet, so to call the setup to The Killer “melodramatic” feels somehow insufficient. A hit-man named Ah Jong (Chow Yun-Fat) takes one last job before what he hopes will be a long and comfortable retirement. The hit goes fine - it's a jaw dropping ballet of blood and bullets. But we'll get into that later. For now, know that in the process of taking his target, Ah Jong accidentally wounds an innocent bystander.
The woman turns out to be a nightclub singer named Jennie (Sally Yeh), and her eyesight is severely impaired as a result of the attack. Driven by guilt, Ah Jong begins visiting her at the club, and soon they fall in love.