Film / The Killer

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

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 Samouraï 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 Jennie, played by Sally Yeh, with the muzzle flash of his gun. Several days later, Jong rescues Jennie 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 Jennie'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:

  • Action Prologue: The Opening Pub Shootout.
  • After Action Patch Up: After the beach house shootout, Ah Jong and Inspector Li Ying spend a scene tending one of the former's wounds, a gunshot to the arm, leading to Li using a bit of gunpowder from a shotgun shell and a match in order to cauterize the wound.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The final showdown has the bad guys launching an assault upon the church that served as Ah Jong's primary place of refuge and peace. And just to drive home the point that the church is no longer a sanctuary for him or Jenny, at one point during the shootout, Paul Yau uses a shotgun to blow the church's centerpiece, the statue of Mary, to smithereens.
  • Almost Lethal Weapons: Both heroes and villains in Heroic Bloodshed movies in general can take a lot of punishment.
  • Anyone Can Die: The film ends with just about every major character dead except for Jenny (who is blind for good) and Inspector Li Ying (who was arrested by his fellow officers for killing Wong Hoi right in front of them).
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Ah Jong angrily throws his (presumably loaded; this is John Woo we're talking about here) gun into the back of the Jeep he's stolen after missing his chance to Wong Hoi. Fortunately, it doesn't go off.
  • Assassins Are Always Betrayed: Ah Jong is betrayed by his boss upon completing his last job.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Ah Jong and Inspector Li fight back to back against an army of bad guys during the final shootout at the church.
  • 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 Jennie at the end.
  • Bash Brothers: Ah Jong and Inspector Li from the beach house shootout onwards.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Ah Jong is an assassin that always saves the last bullet in his gun, either for himself or for his enemy. This is a code all assassins in this film stick to, including his handler Fung Sei (who unfortunately didn't keep the last bullet for himself and ultimately has to have the title character end his life for him).
  • Big Bad: Wong Hoi/Johnny Weng.
  • Big Bad Friend: Wong Hoi towards Ah Jong.
  • Bit-Part Badguys: The two muggers that try to rob the blinded Jenny soon after the first shootout, only to get beaten up by Ah Jong.
  • Blind and the Beast: Jennie 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 Tsang 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, with Ah Jong and Li ally holding off a virtual army of assassins, is probably the quintessential example.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted. In the final battle you see Ah Jong toss a magazine to Li so he can reload. The only time the guns ever seem to run out of ammunition is when it's somehow relevant to the plot. Woo has stated in interviews that showing a reload detracts from the action of a gunfight and he wonders why American film audiences are so obsessed with it. Correlates with the MST3K Mantra.
  • 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.
  • Central Theme: Even in a world of criminals, brotherhood and loyalty are still important traits to have.
  • Chekov's Gun: The church which serves as Ah Jong's primary place of peace and sanctuary throughout the movie is the setting of the movie's final shootout.
  • Church of Saint Genericus: John Woo is a Protestant and the church featured looks like a Protestant one in architecture but it has many Catholic features - lots and lots of candles, a statue of Mary, and a priest who performs the sign of the cross. The doves flying inside the church are completely random though.
  • Church Shootout: The definitive example.
  • Contract on the Hitman: Ah Jong has to deal with his syndicate trying to kill him after pulling off the hit that he hoped would earn him the money to have a singer he accidentally blinded be able to see again, due to Wong Hoi wanting to keep the money for himself and clear the table for his ambitions. He doesn't survive, though to his credit, it takes the mob boss himself to finally end him.
  • Cool Guns:
    • Its a John Woo film, so naturally Ah Jong wields Beretta 92s.
    • The Triads use Beretta M12 submachine guns.
  • Cowboy Cop: Inspector Li. Aside from some disagreement with his superiors he also spends the third act helping Ah Jong take on an army of Mooks.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Ah Jong at one point during the church shootout.
  • Crying Little Kid: A kid does get shot in the beach shoot-out, forcing Ah Jong to grab her and take her to the hospital in an effort to save her. This is the first clue to Li that this guy is not like other assassins.
  • 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.
  • Delusions of Doghood: A dying Fung Sei tells Ah Jong that he doesn't know whether he's a human or a dog anymore, which may be a sign that he's close to (or has already crossed) the Despair Event Horizon as a result of the monstrously cruel No-Holds-Barred Beatdown he received at the hands of Wong Hoi, who repeatedly likened poor Sei to a dog during the beating.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Subverted when the title character dies. He and Jenny miss each other as they grope for each other on the ground near the burning church due to both of them being blind at this moment, Jenny due to the tragic mistake that kicked off the whole thing, and Ah Jong due to getting shot in the eyes by Wong Hoi. The reason the scene came out like it did was because Chow Yun-Fat and Sally Yeh could only be scheduled to shoot on different days.
  • Diegetic Switch: Jenny's song from near the beginning of the movie is played on the soundtrack in instrumental several scenes later when Ah Jong saves the blinded Jenny from the muggers and he's telling her about how not everyone is untrustworthy. It plays again for Inspector Li after he is taken off the case, signifying that he's come to care about Jenny as well.
  • Disturbed Doves: This was the first John Woo movie to have them. He's used them ever since.
  • Downer Ending: The bad guy is dead, but so is the hero and his eyes are now useless, so Jennie is most certainly going blind. Inspector Li is about to be arrested, and his and Ah Jong's best friends are dead too.
  • The Dragon: Paul Yau (the assassin with the shades). He gives both heroes of the movie a fight, especially during the church shootout, before being taken hostage in an attempt to break the Put Down Your Gun and Step Away situation with Wong Hoi and Jenny and getting one put through his skull by Wong Hoi himself.
  • 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.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: At one point during the big shootout in the beach house, Ah Jong blasts the hell out of a car to cover the escape of Li and Jenny. Eventually, the gas tank goes up and the car goes kaboom.
  • Eye Scream: The opening scene of Jennie'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.
  • Famous Last Words:
    • "Goddamn mess, assho— Ass... assho--" Crazy Eddie
    • I followed him to 6 Horizon Drive. I almost got him....I could have... got him." Sgt. Tsang Yeh
    • "I don't want to die like a dog. But you see, I didn't keep one last bullet." Fung Sei
    • "Jenny...Jenny....Jenny....." Ah Jong
    • "Arrest me! I'm asking for police custody! I'm a criminal! Arrest me!" Wong Hoi
  • 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 Jennie, that they truly become allies.
  • Firing One-Handed: Ah Jong fires his Taurus handgun one-handed for most of the movie except when he picks up two guns.
  • Foreshadowing: A cat appears when Ah Jong first meets Jennie on her visit home, and secondarily when Li's partner Tsang tries to catch Ah Jong in Jennie's apartment. In Chinese culture, a cat coming into a home is an omen of ruin and poverty for its inhabitants. Both Tsang and Jennie meet negative outcomes in the film.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: The only time that John Woo avoids his usual "white villain, black hero" color scheme is in the final church shootout, which has Ah Jong in a white suit and Wong Hoi and many of his men in black suits. But then again, Ah Jong is the one who ultimately dies, and Wong Hoi was finished off by Inspector Li Ying, who in turn was arrested by the entire police force for shooting Weng in front of them.
  • Groin Attack: Ah Jong's first kill has him putting three bullets into a mook's groin at point blank range from the side of a doorway that the mook was coming through.
  • 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.
  • Harbinger of Impending Doom: Fung Sei returns to the church with Ah Jong's money, and he's all bloody because he got the living shit kicked out of him by Wong Hoi and his men, who followed Fung Sei to the church following his escape, and when he gets shot, he has to ask Ah Jong to finish him because he didn't save his last bullet for himself and doesn't want to die like a dog. Then all hell breaks loose.
  • Heal It with Fire: Li does this with gunpowder from a shotgun shell. Being as neither of the heroes has anesthesia, Li gives Ah Jong a big stick to bite down on before igniting the powder.
  • Healthcare Motivation: Ah Jong takes on a final assassination job in order to pay Jenny's corneal surgery. The plot ensues when his handler's boss, Wong Hoi, decides to take out a Contract on the Hitman rather than pay him.
  • Heroes' Frontier Step: The moment that convinces Inspector Li that Ah Jong is not your ordinary assassin is when he saves a little girl who gets caught in the crossfire at the beach. He not only shields the kid from more gunfire, but he also drives her to the hospital — with the cops in hot pursuit — and has the doctors operate on her in order to save her life while in the middle of a standoff with Li.
  • Heroic Bloodshed: One of the quintessential examples of the genre.
  • The Hero Dies: Ah Jong dies without fulfilling his promise to have Jenny's eyes fixed. Wong Hoi, the same triad boss who killed Ah Jong, is finished off by Inspector Li Ying, the other primary hero. But Li is arrested by his fellow officers afterward because he did it in cold blood right in front of them.
  • 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 accidentally blinds Jenny during a hit and sets out to perform one last hit to get the money to have her eyes fixed. He does have a larger heart than usual examples, though, even going as far as to take a little girl to the hospital after she takes a bullet during an ambush meant to kill him.
  • Honor Before Reason: Happens a lot in this movie.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Fung Sei, after delivering the money he needs to have Jenny's eyes fixed and being shot by Wong Hoi, asks for a last bullet from his friend so that he doesn't die like a dog, because he didn't save his own last bullet for himself. Ah Jong tearfully complies..
  • 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.
  • In the Back: When Inspector Li confronts Ah Jong at the beach house, he demands that he turn around, as he won't shoot people in the back. Ah Jong notes that this is another way that they're the same. Paul Yau during the final shootout gets in a bullet to Ah Jong's back. It doesn't kill him, of course, but it's one of the rare moments that gets the slow-mo treatment.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Ah Jong does this to Sidney during the confrontation at his apartment. Fung Sei has been persuaded by Wong Hoi to kill him rather than give him the money, and the briefcase that was supposed to hold the money has nothing but worthless paper inside. When he puts his weapon down to open it, Sidney grabs the gun and points it at him, at which point Ah Jong starts laughing. Fung Sei pulls the trigger, only to have it click on an empty chamber, and Ah Jong reveals that he unloaded it when he shows Fung Sei the bullets, just before pulling his other gun on him.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Crazy Eddie, who was shot by Inspector Li, died mid-sentence during his Dying Curse.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Ah Jong has to put a bullet to Fung Sei after he went through serious hell to get the money Ah Jong needs to have Jenny's eyes fixed to him and got shot by the bad guys.
  • Love at First Note: Ah Jong falls in love with Jennie upon hearing her sing at the nightclub where he is to kill his first target. Then the plot happens.
  • Man in White: Ah Jong wears a white suit during the climax.
  • Manly Tears: Ah Jong as he is about to Mercy Kill his friend Fung Sei.
    • Li cries Tsang Yeh's death and also Ah Jong's at the end.
  • Mexican Standoff: Ah Jong and Inspector Li get into these a lot, including a quite iconic point-blank standoff at Jennie'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: Ah Jong'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 Jennie'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.
    • Ah Jong beats the shit out of the two punks who try to rape Jenny.
  • One Bullet Left: Ah Jong lives by these words: "I always save the last bullet, either for myself or for my enemy." The first time he says this, it's when he's demanding of his handler Fung Sei to know who took out the Contract on the Hitman, and after a shootout in his apartment where Ah Jong defends himself and Fung Sei, it's revealed that he indeed had one more bullet. Unfortunately, later on when Fung Sei goes to Wong Hoi's residence to get Ah Jong's money and gets the living shit kicked out of him, he doesn't keep a final bullet, and Ah Jong has to Mercy Kill him when he is gunned down by Wong Hoi.
  • One Last Job: Ah Jong takes on one last hit in order to help Jenny. He has to deal with a Contract on the Hitman due to his boss deciding not to pay him.
  • Pistol Pose: On the poster, Chow Yun Fat combines this with Gory Discretion Shot.
  • Power Walk: Ah Jong and Li do an especially cool one near the end of the Church Shootout.
  • Prefer Jail to the Protagonist: Wong Hoi doies this at the end of the movie to get away from Inspector Li Ying, who wants him dead for killing Ah Jong. This results in Li gunning him down right in front of his fellow officers and then getting arrested.
  • Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Used in the final standoff. Wong Hoi has taken Jenny hostage and orders Ah Jong and Li to lay down their guns. Li takes the wounded Paul Yau hostage in turn and tries to get Wong Hoi to let her go, only for Wong Hoi to cross the Moral Event Horizon and put a bullet through Paul's head with a second gun before reaffirming his threat. Ah Jong and Li lay down their guns, with their plan being Ah Jong pulling the spare gun out of the cop's pants and shooting Wong Hoi. Once the guns are down, Wong Hoi shoots Ah Jong, Ah Jong falls, grabs Li's spare gun and puts a bullet in Wong Hoi's gut, knocking him away from Jenny. Then the two of them have a shootout on the ground, but as Ah Jong only has one gun to Wong Hoi's two, Ah Jong goes down with both of his eyes shot out and dies in a very tragic fashion, and the task of taking Wong Hoi down goes to Li.
  • 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.
  • Re-Cut: A longer version exists, as detailed here.
  • 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 Jennie)
    • "Fung Sei!"/"Sidney!" (English) (Said by Ah Jong when his friend, Fung Sei, was shot in the church)
    • "Shrimp head"!/"Dumbo!" (English) (Inspector Li addressing Ah Jong)
    • "Little B"!/"Mickey!" (English) (Ah Jong addressing Inspector Li)
  • Scarf of Asskicking: Ah Jong during the first shootout.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Most famously the scene where Ah Jong takes out his target at the restaurant during the first major shootout of the movie. Not to mention the vision that Jenny has of Ah Jong firing directly at the camera, with a sea of blood behind him.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The film ends with one of the protagonists dead, the other wrecks his career by killing Wong Hoi right in front of the cops he's surrendered to, and Jenny is doomed to go blind, not even able to salvage Ah Jong's eyes, because he got shot in the eyes.
  • Shoot the Dog: Ah Jong has to put a bullet to Fung Sei, his best friend, so that he doesn't die like a dog after getting tortured and then shot by Wong Hoi and his people.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The protagonists bring down Wong Hoi, but Ah Jong dies before he can reach his goal, to raise enough money for Jenny's eye transplant. Not only that, his Plan B of having her use his eyes falls flat when that's where Wong Hoi shoots him. And in a sense of Pyrrhic Victory, Inspector Li, is arrested by his fellow officers when he finally guns down Wong Hoi to avenge his friend and keep the villain from getting away with it all because he had done so right in front of them in cold blood after the boss had surrendered to them, so he can't use the money to have the singer's eyes fixed either.
  • The Siege: The church shootout, which has Ah Jong and Inspector Li holding off wave after wave of Wong Hoi's men who are bent on killing everyone.
  • Sinister Shades: Paul Yau sports a set of these.
  • Sniper Rifle: Ah Jong uses a Dragunov to carry out the hit at the dragon boat festival. In reality it's a mock-up built from a Chinese Norinco Type 56 assault rifle.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Handel's "Messiah" overture plays at one point during the big Church Shootout.
  • Swivel-Chair Antics: In the scene at Ah Jong's apartment, Ah Jong uses a swivel chair to good use when the bad guys attack, launching himself backward before blasting the hell out of the first guy to enter the room. It's later reenacted by Inspector Li Ying, who thoroughly spooks out his partner Chang while doing so.
  • Sympathy For The Anti-hero: Ah Jong and Inspector Li Ying, who end up teaming up against Wong Hoi in order to get the money needed for Jenny's eye operation.
  • Tears of Blood: Flavor two is used for two major scenes: one being the blinding-by-muzzle-flash of Jenny during the restaurant shootout that kicks off the plot, and the other being the death of Ah Jong when he gets shot in the eyes by Wong Hoi.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: Feature a lot in Heroic Bloodshed movies in general, and this movie is no exception.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Li is taken off the case after getting the wrong guy at the airport, since the superintendent thinks the man is siding with the guy he's supposed to take in.
  • Two Shots from Behind the Bar: The opening shootout features a bartender with a shotgun. Needless to say, it doesn't end well for him.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out: After the first shootout, Ah Jong has some bullets taken out of him by Fung Sei at the church. It is painful as hell.
  • White Shirt of Death: Ah Jong and Inspector Li themselves at the end, though Li survives the shootout.

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