THE KILLER (1989) — Of Brotherhood and Bloodshed [Two Cents]

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

I always save my last Two Cents, either for myself or for my enemy. Welcome all you Shrimpheads and Small B’s (or Dumbos and Mickey Mice, where applicable) to another edition of Two Cents! Usually with our picks we try to tie in to a current film or events somehow, but this week there’s no such pretense. This is simply a movie that we love so damn much that once it showed up on Netflix, we just knew we had to program it with the hope of introducing it to folks who hadn’t seen it before. If the Gospel of John (Woo) can touch just one new human being, then it will have been worth our effort.

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

With current events suddenly putting the Confederate flag at the center of a heated debate in the last couple weeks, there’s never been a better time to watch and discuss the racial satire CSA: Confederate States Of America, a low budget film that imagines what life would be like if the South had won the Civil War. CSA was directed by Lawrence, KS-based filmmaker and Kansas University film professor Kevin Wilmott, who just recently lent his own thoughts to the current discussion surrounding the Confederate flag.

CSA is available streaming on Netflix Instant.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)!

The Team


John Woo put his name on the map in the way most international filmmakers can only ever hope to by crafting this extremely taut tale of justice and revenge and some of the best action in the genre.

If anyone were to ever ask what makes an action film, they need only look at The Killer. This film is chock-full of so much action, violence and corruption; all necessary ingredients in ANY action movie entry, yet rarely taken to the degree which Woo dares to go to in The Killer. The movie’s finale in particular is one of the best action scenes ever shot thanks to Woo’s carefully thought out fight choreography, which the director perfectly sets to the film’s powerful score.

Apart from the action, the main story in The Killer remains one of the most thoughtful when compared to the ones usually given to action movies. There’s a real pathos attached to this tale of a hitman seeking justice for one of his victims who also happens to be the woman he loves, while the idea of the cop and the criminal banding together to defeat an evil greater than both of them, is nothing if not appealing. (@frankfilmgeek)


The Killer hit pop culture like a bomb going off, and we’re still living in the shockwaves. There isn’t an action film made in the last two decades that doesn’t owe a debt to this film, either directly or through the influence of The Killer’s prodigies.

The danger with something like that is that the original film itself will become a relic, copied and diluted to the point that there’s nothing fresh remaining. Woo hasn’t done himself any favors in that regard, reusing his favored visual motifs and themes to the point of self-parody at times. So, the question facing The Killer is whether or not it can retain any of its punch decades later.

It does. You guys, it so does. The thing that separates Woo from so many similar directors is that the man makes films from the bottom of his soul. The Killer is action-cinema, but it’s action as poetic manifestation of the soul, with one criminal literally shooting his way towards something like redemption. The Killer is the pulp story elevated to opera, and it seems safe to assume that it will continue inspiring new filmmakers for decades to come. (@TheTrueBrendanF)


The Killer is a perfect film. Which is not to say that it’s a flawless film, because it isn’t, but simply that it’s perfect. John Woo’s style sometimes strains things almost to breaking point; his melodrama game is fierce, and his editing choices at times baffling and jarring, but there was a string of several films in the 80’s and 90’s when it somehow just worked, and The Killer, a film which has occupied my personal Top 10 for years, is chief among these.

Much like his two A Better Tomorrow films, the key to The Killer isn’t simply guns blazing and a million squibs. That’s all here too, but the reason I love these films could be summed up in the word “brotherhood”. The Killer‘s main story follows the relationship of Chow Yun-Fat’s conscientious hitman Ah Jong and the sensitive police detective tracking him down, finding themselves allies against a common enemy. But it’s the B plot with contract man Fung Sei that really solidifies the film’s spirit. His heartbreaking character arc of betrayal and redemption is so passionately portrayed. (@VforVashaw)


Not only was I slow in getting my entry for this week’s Two Cents in, but during my viewing of this film I learned than I was also pretty slow in learning that some Netflix films have different language options. I learned this because I complained on Twitter about the horrific American voice dubbing and Austin yelled at me to change it to Cantonese.

So, yeah… I’m stupid. And, perhaps that is also the reason that I didn’t really find this movie to be anything special. This could also be because of several other reasons besides my stupidity… notably, the version on Netflix Instant looked like crap and I watched the first half dubbed. During the first half of the film, I actually enjoyed myself much more, because the dubbing was comically bad to the point of being fantastically cheesy. The second half was far less comedic, though I must admit that the grunts and moans of the dying men were still quite hilarious.

I guess this is considered a great film and it’s groundbreaking or something. But I watched the John Travolta cheese classic, The Experts, right after this ended and it was so much more enjoyable. (@thepaintedman)

Our Guest

Brendan Agnew:

Action aficionados tend to associate John Woo with the legendary bullet ballet Hard Boiled. And rightly so, as Hard Boiled is a masterpiece. However, before crafting that film, Woo made another home run that, while it may not feature the scale and intricacy of action sequences, is a more personal exploration of honor and intentions. The Killer is full of the director’s signature (in fact, there’s a shot of Chow Yun-Fat in a church surrounded by candles and sitting next to a freakin’ DOVE that’s just about the John Woo-iest shot ever), but also takes a bit more time to explore the relationships of the titular assassin, the detective hunting him, and the blind woman caught in the crossfire.

Which isn’t to say The Killer is free of action — the film’s lean 110 minutes is packed with shootouts and chases that still put most modern action films to shame, including an absolute showstopper in a church. And while it’s easy to point to Woo’s visual flourishes as the “key” to his action, The Killer demonstrates a flair for dramatic juxtaposition as well as masterful scene geography. It might not be his crowning achievement, but The Killer is arguably Woo’s most intimate film. (@BLCAgnew)

Did you all get a chance to watch along with us? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!

Get it at Amazon:
 The Killer [Blu-ray] | [DVD]

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