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Fox Lorber presents
The Killer (1989)

"One vicious killer. One relentless cop. Ten thousand bullets."
- U.S. promotional tagline

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: September 29, 2000

Stars: Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee
Other Stars: Sally Yeh, Chu Kong, Fui-On Shing
Director: John Woo

Manufacturer: DVDI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (extreme violence, language)
Run Time: 01h:50m:25s
Release Date: October 03, 2000
UPC: 720917522326
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The Killer is another one of John Woo's grand, violent, melodramatic spectacles fromHong Kong, which some argue is his best. Once again collaborating with actor Chow Yun-Fat, Wooreturns to the world of crime drama, something of a specialty for him. Rather than beingexclusively about action and brutality, though, The Killer stands out among Woo's careerfor its amount of heart and drama. Of course, core enjoyment of these films is enhanced by the knowledge that in Hong Kong many things are so strictly regulated that even serious crime isreserved for mysterious individuals with heavy contacts. Thus, the fascination with Triad gangsand gun runners is understandable as standard subject matter.

Chow Yun-Fat portrays Jeffrey Chow, a regularly hired mobster hitman who has becomedisillusioned with his profession. As the film opens, he is on a job at a small nightclub, but in thebullet-ridden chaos that ensues, he accidentally blinds Jennie, the singer at the club. He is drivento find out more about her—he befriends her in order to determine ifshe can identify him—but he soon finds himself falling in love as gets closer to her. Eventually, they learnthat a expensive operation can save her eyes, so Jeffrey painfully decides to continue takingcontracts in order to save up money to move out of the country and fix Jennie's eyes. Meanwhile,a police inspector, Li (Danny Lee), is busy with deep undercover work to expose gun running operations, while also pursuing the mysterious hitman, Jefferey, though he doesn't knowwho he is yet. He makes connections between Jennie, her accident, and the circumstances of it,eventually finding out Jeffery's identity. To further complicate things, Jeff's mob boss betrays himand sets him up for a double cross on his next job. He is then put in an awkward position wherehe forced to fight both the police and the mob, as well as risk revealing his true nature to Jennie.

Obviously there are a lot of good action sequences in this film, typical of Woo's wild, Peckinpah-esque style. They don't overtake the general theme, though, and the plot has amazing depth, rarely seen in action films. It could be argued that the centrallove story between Jeffrey is somewhat sappy, the subplots involving Jeffrey's relationship withInspector Li as well as his mob ties more than make up for that. There is a film noir aspect to themovie that makes it comparable to some of the great crime drama films.

As usual, Chow Yun-Fat makes a suprisingly appropriate lead character as the suave, yet capablyviolent, assassin. Danny Lee, who has played a cop more times than I can count, fits in easily andmakes a great foil for Yun-Fat. Sally Yeh has often played these types of love interests inHong Kong cinema, and her presence adds a definite balance to the testosterone level of the film, populated mostly withmen. Not enough good things can really be said about the casting, which is one of the moreendearing aspects of this finely crafted film.

The amazing thing about The Killer, is the fact that it's over 10 years old and still holdsit's impact, especially as an action movie. Nothing, other than Woo's own work, has even comeclose to it and maybe that reason alone should tell audiences something. Maybe someday we'llsee Chow Yun-Fat and John Woo team up once again, and at that moment I get the feeling actioncinema as Westerners know it will change.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Killer is a bit damaged and aged, but I'm actually surprised with the overallquality. The film's early moments are a bit too dark and filled with scratches, but soon afterwardsimage improves quite a bit with sharp, vibrant colors and an unexpected overall clarity. Somecompression artifacts show up here and there, and there is some background shimmer in a fewsequences. Black level is fairly accurate and there are no signs of any artificial imageimprovement such as edge enhancement. The English subtitle track is yellow, easily readable, andplaced slightly below image frame. Fox Lorber's definitive VHS version has been nicely upgradedhere with far better results than I could have expected. Lack of anamorphic enhancement isdisappointing, though.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoCantonese, Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Both English and Cantonese versions feature a single channel Mono audio track. The audio doesits job, but a few moments are rather harsh and tinny, resulting in distortion at higher volumelevels. This isn't a constant problem, but overall the quality is rather flat and weak. Dialogueremains clear, though, and the more important scenes never seem to suffer from any distortion. The English dub is slightly worse, in that the English dialogue is, many times, much louder than therest of the audio making it sound forced and unnatural.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Hard Boiled
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Woo
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single
Layers Switch: 01h:00m:15s

Extra Extras:
  1. DVD-ROM Weblink
Extras Review: The commentary track with director John Woo is fairly entertaining, mostly as an insight intowhat inspired him during the making of the film. He manages to keep up with the movie prettywell, being very scene specific. It takes awhile to get used to his thick accent and the fact hisEnglish is sometimes slightly fractured, but it wears off after awhile. He also often talks indifferent persons, many times talking like he's the assassin, trying to explain what he felt whendoing a certain scene. He does an amazing job for someone I've usually heard as beingcharacterized as not wanting to discuss his work a whole lot.

There are trailers for The Killer and Hard Boiled, filmographies for the centralcast, and a bio of Woo. Short production notes provide some making-of insight, and the wholedisc is wrapped up with some really dynamic, animated menus. 30 chapter stops are provided,which is plenty; they're placed fairly well too.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

This classic has made it onto DVD, thankfully, with no major problems. Though some audiorestoration would have been nice, the package is still a worthy buy for any fan of John Woo, oraction films in general. Highly Recommended.


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