The Killer

The Killer (1989 film) is a 1989 Hong Kong action film written and directed by John Woo, and starring Chow Yun-fat, Danny Lee and Sally Yeh. Chow plays the assassin Ah Jong, who accidentally damages the eyes of the singer Jennie (Sally Yeh) during a shootout. He later discovers that if Jennie does not undergo an expensive operation she will go blind. To get the money for Jennie, Ah Jong decides to perform one last hit.[1]

After the financial backing from Tsui Hark became problematic following the release of Woo’s film A Better Tomorrow 2, actor Chow Yun-fat stepped in and enlisted the company he was contracted with, Golden Princess Film, to fund part of the project. Chow had worked previously with Woo on the two A Better Tomorrow films. Woo wanted Danny Lee to play Li Ying, but Lee was under an exclusive contract with Cinema City and was only able to work on The Killer if his production company, Magnum, was involved. The supporting roles were filled out by friends of the actors and director. Chu Kong was a friend of Chow Yun-fat who had entered retirement and returned to acting in The Killer as a favor. Two of Woo’s close friends joined the cast: actor Kenneth Tsang and screenwriter Barry Wong.[24] Wong Wing-Hang was hired to be the director of photography for The Killer but had to leave the set for an extended period of time, so Peter Pau was added to shoot the rest of the film.

Woo had over 90 days to shoot The Killer which was nearly double the amount of time that the average Hong Kong film was shot in the late 1980s. Woo went into filming with only a short treatment for the film and wrote the details of the script while filming.[1]

The Killer was first released in Taiwan in March 1989 with a running time of 124 minutes. It was then cut to its current running time of 110 minutes and released in Hong Kong during July 1989, Woo felt this cut was “much better“. The film was not an immediate success in Hong Kong due to the Tiananmen Square massacre but eventually gained fame, grossing $18,255,083 and reached ninth at the 1989 Hong Kong box office. The Killer was popular in Korea taking seventh highest place in the year end box office receipts.[1]

Film producer Terence Chang suggested that The Killer‘s success around the world made several Hong Kong filmmakers jealous: “It created a certain kind of resentment in the Hong Kong film industry. One thing I can say for sure is, the American, European, Japanese, Korean and even the Taiwanese audiences and critics appreciated The Killer a lot more than it was in Hong Kong.“[1]

The plot was bigger, a little more dated in places and a little more modern than ‘A Better Tomorrow’, although that may just be a reflection of Hong Kong more than the film. It was definitely paced more like a Western film, that may just be a reflection of the monies that were spent on it. But still, the question remains, why would you ever even think about wearing a white suit to a gunfight?!!

[1] The Killer (1989 film). Retrieved 23 November 2017.

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