The Killer (1989)

the killer poster 1989 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Edgy for the time, Chow Yun-fat

John Woo cliches in later movies hurt this movie

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Killer

Studio: Film Workshop

Genre(s): Action/Adventure

Release Date(s): July 6, 1989 (Hong Kong)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

the killer ah jong detective li ying danny lee chow yun fat


A hitman going by the name of Ah Jong (Chow Yun-fat) accidentally blinds a woman named Jennie (Sally Yeh) while on a mission for the Triads.  Vowing to right his wrong, Ah Jong takes another job to fix Jenny’s eyes but discovers the Triad has turned against him.  Now, the killer Ah Jong is trying to get the money for the surgery that Jenny needs before it is too late and finds himself on the run from the Triads and a determined rogue detective named Li Ying (Danny Lee).

Directed by John Woo, The Killer (喋血雙雄 or diéxuè shuāngxióng aka A Pair of Blood-Spattered Heroes) is a Hong Kong action thriller.  The movie was released to critical acclaim and received a Criterion Collection remastered release (Criterion #8) which has since gone out of print.

the kille rjohn woo doves candles church chow yun fat

Every John Woo cliche…right here

The Killer and Hard Boiled (1992) were action movies that put John Woo on the map in the United States before he started making films here.  The Killer feels edgy and imperfect, but it is a lot of fun…something that John Woo often does with his films (before he became a parody of himself).

The movie is ridiculous.  You have endless shootout scenes with the heroes bloodied but ok enough to keep fighting and shooting.  The set-up with the Triads and the police is interesting and the Ah Jong’s chivalrous code of ethics does make for an interesting (if not confusing) character.  The movie’s ending is rather dark, and it is generally unclear on the fate of those that Ah Jong is helping or being helped by.

Chow Yung-Fat really has something here.  He is often stone-faced and cold, but he still manages to emote a lot with his expressions (or attempts to conceal them).  The superman nature of the character is hard to swallow and the hitman-with-a-heart-of-gold is cliché but usually still works.  The movie builds the dynamic between the assassin Ah Jong and the officer Li Yang by building parallels between the two through Danny Lee.  Lee doesn’t quite have the screen presence of Chow Yun-fat, but he does an ok job trying to keep up.  I don’t think Jennie deserves anything that happens to her, but I find Sally Yeh’s character irritating and underdeveloped…she feels more like a set-piece for the two male leads instead of a fleshed out character herself.

the killer wong hoi jennie sally yeh shing fui on

Um…at this point who’d really be upset if Jennie got it?

John Woo’s imagery soars.  You have to remember that with this movie, a lot of his visuals were new and unique.  The doves, candles, and gunfights were something new.  He turned it into his signature style, but it also became a joke a result.  Here, it is fresh, but it is sometimes hard to remember when you are thinking of Mission:  Impossible II.

The Killer is a good shoot-’em-up thriller.  It is over-the-top in ways that surpasses John Wick and the characters talk about bullet conservation but seem to have an endless supply (unless they really need it).  Seek out The Killer and enjoy a great ’80s action flashback.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response