Film / The Killer

One vicious hitman. One relentless cop. Ten thousand bullets.

The Killer (Die Xue Shuang Xiong, or "Bloodshed of Two Heroes") is considered one of John Woo's all time greatest films, drawing from such influences as Jean-Pierre Melville's hitman drama Le Samourai and Chang Cheh's bloody masterpiece Vengeance. Chow Yun-fat plays Hitman with a Heart Ah Jong, whose life changes forever when, in the middle of carrying out a hit at a restaurant, he accidentally blinds a beautiful lounge singer by the name of Jenny, played by Sally Yeh, with the muzzle flash of his gun. Several days later, Jong rescues Jenny from muggers who are out to rob her and gets to know the girl a bit better and is all the more wracked with remorse for it. Jong wants to leave the business behind so that he can be with her, but in order to raise the money to have Jenny's eyes fixed, he will need to perform one last job for his triad, which is to kill a guy by the name of Wong Dung-Yu.

Unfortunately for Jong, things do not turn out as planned. The boss of the triad, Wong Hoi, who is the nephew of the guy he sent Jong out to kill, would rather kill Jong than hand over the money that Jong's handler Fung Sei promised to him, as he wants to clear the table for his ruthless ambitions. Meanwhile, a cop by the name of Inspector Li Ying (played by Danny Lee, who is good at playing Cowboy Cops in general) has picked up Ah Jong's case, and as he gets to know both the assassin and the woman that he's going through hell for, the two heroes on opposite sides of the law develop a respect for each other that soon turns into a bond of friendship akin to blood brotherhood. As Fung Sei goes through hell to try to get the money for his friend, Wong Hoi has hired a replacement killer by the name of Paul Yau and a virtual army of assassins to get rid of Jong, and as everything goes straight to hell, Li becomes Jong's only ally against his double-crossing boss in a blazing final showdown that has come to define Heroic Bloodshed.

This movie built on the genre that was started with A Better Tomorrow and Heroes Shed No Tears and expanded upon it. In addition to the Heroic Bloodshed favorites of Guns Akimbo, slow-mo and themes of loyalty and betrayal. The Killer also popularized the use of the point-blank Mexican Standoff and introduced the Disturbed Doves, a motif that would show up in John Woo's later movies and made their first appearance during the apocalyptic church shootout that ended the movie. It also has one of the most tragic endings that Woo has ever done, in keeping with the tendency of Hong Kong and Asian cinema in general to end their more dramatic movies on a downer note.

This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Almost Lethal Weapons: Both heroes and villains in Heroic Bloodshed movies in general can take a lot of punishment.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Ah Jong and Inspector Li during the church shootout.
  • Badass: Ah Jong and Inspector Li both.
  • Bad Boss: Wong Hoi, as Ah Jong and Fung Sei both finds out. Wong Hoi even kills Paul Yau, his own syndicate hitman, when he was used as a hostage by Inspector Li in an attempt to break his own hostage situation with Jenny at the end.
  • Bash Brothers: Ah Jong and Inspector Li from the beach house shootout onwards.
  • Big Bad: Wong Hoi/Johnny Weng.
  • Big Bad Friend: Wong Hoi towards Ah Jong.
  • Blind and the Beast: Jenny and Ah Jong. Played with in that's it not Jong's appearance that could be considered unpleasant, rather his profession and the fact that it was him who blinded her, which she's initially unaware of.
  • Blood Brothers: Two sets of these, Fung Sei being one on Ah Jong's side and Chang being one for Li. The two protagonists develop a bond like this toward the end of the movie.
  • Bloodstained Glass Windows: The final showdown at the church.
  • Cain and Abel: Wong Hoi and Wong Dung-Yu. Though they were never shown fighting with each other on-screen. As it turns out, Wong Hoi is the one who ordered Ah Jong to kill his nephew.
  • Church Shootout: The definitive example.
  • Contract on the Hitman: The primary plot of the movie.
  • Cowboy Cop: Inspector Li.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Ah Jong at one point during the church shootout.
  • Dead Partner: Sgt. Tsang Yeh, Inspector Li's partner, was fatally shot in the car lot by Paul Yau and dies after he was admitted in a hospital. But not before chasing down Fung Sei, finding the location where Ah Jong was hiding.
  • Death by Flashback: Prior to the death of Sgt. Tsang in the hospital, there is a flashback of him telling Inspector Li that he can't win forever...but he can't lose forever either.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Subverted with the dying Ah Jong and Jenny due to scheduling conflicts between their two actors.
  • Diegetic Switch: Done with Jenny's song at the very beginning of the movie.
  • Disturbed Doves: This was the first John Woo movie to have them. He's used them ever since.
  • The Dragon: Paul Yau
  • Downer Ending: The bad guy is dead, but so is the hero and his eyes are now useless, so Jenny is irremediably going blind. Inspector Li is about to be arrested, and his and Ah Jong's best friends are dead too.
  • Dying Curse: Crazy Eddie calls Inspector Li an "asshole", moments before dying of his gunshot wounds in the tram after taking a woman hostage.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Ah Jong learns from Fung Sei that he was betrayed by Wong Hoi when his boss decides to have Paul Yau as his replacement.
  • Eye Scream: The opening scene of Jenny's eyes being burned by Ah Jong's muzzle flash. And Chow Yun-Fat's eye was injured for real during filming, which can be seen during the climax.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: While Ah Jong and Inspector Li do have a great deal of respect for each other despite being on opposite sides of the law, it's not until the beach house shootout, where the two are forced to join forces to protect each other and Jenny, that they truly become allies.
  • Groin Attack: Ah Jong's first kill at the restaurant.
  • The Gunslinger: Most of the major characters are this in spades.
  • Guns Akimbo: Crazy Eddie at the beginning. Ah Jong, Inspector Li and Wong Hoi towards the end.
  • Gun Fu: A John Woo trademark, most prominently seen in the beach shootout, the beach house shootout and the church shootout.
  • Heroic Bloodshed: One of the quintessential examples of the genre.
  • The Hero Dies: Ah Jong himself was killed before he could fulfill the promise to have Jenny's eyes fixed.
  • He Knows Too Much: The reason why Wong Hoi wants to kill Ah Jong is because he was spotted on the hit.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Ah Jong, full stop, with emphasis on the "heart".
  • Honor Before Reason: Happens a lot in this movie.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Ah Jong has to put a bullet to Fung Sei after he fails to save a final bullet to finish himself off.
  • In-Series Nickname: Ah Jong and Inspector Li addresses each other as "Mickey Mouse" and "Dumbo" ("Shrimp Head" and "Runt" in the Cantonese Original) at certain points of the movie.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Ah Jong does this to Sidney during the confrontation at his apartment.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Crazy Eddie, who was shot by Inspector Li, died mid-sentence during his Dying Curse.
  • Love at First Note: Ah Jong falls in love with Jenny upon hearing her sing at the nightclub where he is to kill his first target. Then the plot happens.
  • Manly Tears
  • Mexican Standoff: Ah Jong and Inspector Li get into these a lot, including a quite iconic point-blank standoff at Jenny's apartment.
  • Mohs Scale of Violence Hardness: It rates a 8, due to its high number of blood-splattering gunshot wounds (some in slo-mo).
  • Must Make Amends: The title character's attempt to fix a tragic mistake that he made, which resulted in a beautiful singer being blinded by the muzzle-flash of his gun. The last hit that he goes on is an attempt to raise the money to have her eyes fixed, but unfortunately for him, his boss has other ideas. It does not end well for him.
  • My Greatest Failure: How Ah Jong felt about nearly shooting Jenny's eyes out at the nightclub and about the child whom he bought to the hospital when she is caught in the middle of the shootout on the beach.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Fung Sei receives a quite tearjerking one of these at the hands of Wong Hoi in his final attempt to get the Killer's money.
  • One Last Job: Ah Jong has to do one of these to pay to have Jenny's eyes fixed.
  • Power Walk: Ah Jong and Li do an especially cool one near the end of the Church Shootout.
  • Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Wong Hoi takes Jenny hostage in the movie's final standoff.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Inspector Li kills Wong Hoi at the end in retaliation for killing Ah Jong. But as a consequence, he was arrested after gunning down the mob boss in front of the entire police force. He also can't use the money to have Jenny's eyes fixed either.
  • Rasputinian Death: Wong Hoi at the end.
  • Sanctuary of Solitude: In the very first scene when Fung Sei meets Ah Jong at the church, he asks if he believes in God. Ah Jong replies in the negative but that he "enjoys the tranquility here," making it clear that the church is a place of peace for him. The church gets blown to hell during the course of the final shootout.
  • Say My Name:
    • "Ah Jong!"/"Jeffrey!" (English) (Said by Jenny)
    • "Fung Sei!"/"Sidney!" (English) (Said by Ah Jong when his friend, Fung Sei, was shot in the church)
    • "Dumbo!" (Inspector Li addressing Ah Jong)
    • "Mickey!" (Ah Jong addressing Inspector Li)
  • Scarf of Asskicking: Ah Jong during the first shootout.