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Film / Coolie Killer

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"COOLIE KILLER - the film that John Woo would spend the next 10 years trying to make"
HKMDB Review

Coolie Killer is a 1982 Hong Kong action movie with elements distinctively similar to the kind of movies John Woo would make, but it debuts way before Woo's quintessential entry into the genre, A Better Tomorrow, and is often cited as the real progenitor of heroic bloodshed cinema, kicking off a film-making trend that is still relevant in the action genre today.

Ko Tat-fu (Charlie Chin) is a former coolie dock worker, who turns to the life of a hitman when times are tough, but after quitting the assassin business he have since established a shipping company based in Hong Kong's Sai Ying Pun district. But when a triad syndicate attempts a hostile takeover, killing four of his workers and threatening his business, Tat-fu have to pick up his guns again, while crossing paths with Hong Kong policeman Inspector Chung (Yueh Hua) also investigating the mob.

This is the closest Hong Kong would get to a John Woo-style movie, arguably starting the Hong Kong Blood Opera Sub-Genre of action films, before A Better Tomorrow officially kickstarts the concept and gets the ball rolling.

Danny Lee co-stars as Tat-fu's mob superior, although why didn't he portray a member of the police investigating the mob (given Lee's passion in playing policemen) is still an unanswered question.

Tropes associated with this work:

  • Ambiguous Situation: Ho-yee’s fate. The last time audiences see her, she is looking mournfully the morning after having sex with Tat-fu, and Tat-fu suddenly pulls a gun on her, where she nods at him thinking she knows what will happen to her next. Cue gunshot. Since she is never seen or mentioned for the rest of the movie, whether Tat-fu decide to silence her to Leave No Witnesses or spare her is unconfirmed.
  • Anti-Hero: Tat-fu may be the protagonist and Hitman with a Heart, but he’s not beyond forcing himself on Ho-yee, kissing her against her will, bedding her to show his feelings and pointing his gun on everyone he meets in a threatening manner.
  • Badass Biker: A group of Elite Mooks on motorcycles shows up early in the film, brutally chasing down and killing a target also on a motorcycle, by stabbing a dozen barbecue forks through the fleeing target’s chest. At the climatic finale, Tat-fu had to battle against these guys, which he has a harder time trying to defeat than the usual mooks.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Tat-fu and Inspector Chung in the alleyway shootout.
  • Bad Guys Play Pool: The two triad bosses, Boss Ding and Boss Choi, are shown playing pool when one of their underlings arrives to report of their failure to eliminate Tat-fu in the alleyway shootout.
  • Bling-Bling-BANG!: Siu, The Dragon, uses a modified Beretta with a pearl-handled grip during his final showdown with Tat-fu.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted in the scene where Tat-fu confronts the Big Bad, Boss Ding. Tat-fu’s weapon is a six-shot revolver, Ding has six bodyguards surrounding him, so Ding guns down the six guards using six shots before using a second concealed pistol to kill Boss Ding.
  • The Can Kicked Him:
    • Inspector Chung manage to get the information he needs by interrogating the old doctor in a loo, while the doctor is in the middle of reliving himself. The moment Chung leaves, another assassin catches up and shoots the doctor in the back, causing him to fall face-down in the toilet with his ass exposed.
    • Tat-fu’s brawl in a toilet with a Giant Mook ends with him shoving his opponent headfirst into a tall water tank, drowning the mook.
  • Covered with Scars: A scene with Tat-fu in his bedroom, changing his clothing, have close-ups on several vicious-looking scars criss-crossing his chest.
  • Darkened Building Shootout: Tat-fu against a group of mooks in the hull of a ship at the docks, the only source of lighting being just a few oddly-placed windows and skylights.
  • Deadly Dodging: During the docks shootout, Tat-fu had to jump into a hatch to escape the thugs after him. A thug follows him into the hatch… but fail to notice that there is a deep fall, a few hundred meters, behind the opening, and Tat-fu is actually on a platform just behind it. Said thug ends up falling screaming past Tat-fu all the way down.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: During the docks infiltration, Tat-fu disguises himself as one of the random mooks. Which is easy, because the mooks all wears generic-looking grey sweaters and safety helmets, which he can retrieve from an empty storeroom.
  • Fiery Cover-Up: Such as getting rid of two bodies by dousing them in gasoline and throwing a torch on it.
  • Fingore: Tat-fu’s final battle against Siu have both of them shooting at each other, only for Siu to shoot and sever Tat-fu’s entire thumb in graphic detail. With plenty of close-up on the severed stump dripping with blood.
  • Fork Fencing: While fighting hitmen in his apartment, Tat-fu uses a fork (he’s in the middle of dinner) and shoves it through a hitman’s shoulder. That hitman shows up a short while later, the fork still embedded in the same spot from earlier.
  • Guns Akimbo: Tat-fu during his shootouts. A rival triad boss also uses dual silenced pistols.
  • Gun Stripping: Tat-fu, while alone in his apartment, is shown assembling a pistol and timing himself on how fast he could do it. Unfortunately, a group of killers on roller-blades chose this moment to attack, where he’s temporarily without a firearm due to his disassembled pistol.
  • Heroic Bloodshed: A Ur-Example that pre-dates A Better Tomorrow by four years.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: Siu’s death, having Tat-fu’s hook blade shoved into his throat, all the way through his chin. It kills him slowly.
  • Improvised Weapon: In the alleyway shootout, Inspector Chung, out of bullets, managed to subdue a thug by emptying the contents of a fire extinguisher all over said thug, allowing Tat-tu to gun him down while he’s confused.
  • Inspector Javert: Inspector Chung, investigating the triad killings, who will stop at nothing to have Tat-fu arrested.
  • Job Title: A twofer; Tat-fu used to be a coolie working in the docks, before desperate times forces him into becoming a killer. Hence the title referring to him is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Mexican Standoff: Tat-fu’s final confrontation with Big Bad Boss Ding, where Ding had six of his mooks surrounding him, gloating that Tat-fu (whose current firearm is a six-shot revolver) is hopelessly outgunned. But he clearly underestimated Tat-fu, who responds by expertly firing while dodging, killing six of Ding’s bodyguards with exactly six shots, before getting close to Ding… at which point Tat-fu reveals he have a second gun in his coat and uses that to blow Ding’s brains out.
  • Nothing Up My Sleeve: In their final confrontation, Tat-fu gets crippled by Siu, who then gloats about finally besting Tat-fu while walking closer to execute Tat-fu from point-blank. But Siu didn’t notice Tat-fu have a hidden hook-blade under the sleeve of his other arm, which he quickly uses to get the drop on Siu, stabbing him through the jugular.
  • Post-Climax Confrontation: After killing Boss Ding, Tat-fu still have to face Siu, the closest the movie has to The Dragon, in a one-on-one final duel.
  • Power Fist: In the climax, Tat-fu packs a knuckle-duster/knife combo besides his pistol, which assists him in taking down mooks from up close.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: On the Yakuza leader and his girlfriend shot by Tat-fu in the opening scene. While the leader gets a few drops of his blood spilling out on his girlfriend, the girlfriend who is shot while fleeing on the other hand only gets a red dot on her forehead.
  • Professional Killer: Ko Tat-fu.
  • Rollerblade Good: In one of his earlier action scenes in the first act, Tat-fu gets assaulted by rollerblading mooks in his apartment, some which he defeats, and have to flee through the corridor outside while being chased by those mooks. Tat-fu managed to subdue them briefly by turning a janitor’s trolley in the corridor around where mooks unable to stop themselves in time ends up crashing into the trolley, but just for a short while.
  • Stab the Scorpion: After the alleyway shootout, which have Tat-fu leaving Inspector Chung trapped while fleeing with Ho-yee, they end up by a set of stairs before Chung suddenly shouts at them to stop from an above balcony, gun pointed at the two. Inspector Chung fires a shot – killing a mook sneaking up on Tat-fu.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Between Tat-fu the killer, and Inspector Chung the cop investigating the killings.
  • Training Montage: After recovering from his shoulder injury, Tat-fu have a rather lengthy training scene with Ho-yee assisting him, including climbing, push-ups, and shooting bottles.
  • Two-Person Pool Party: A lady assassin is shown in a Jacuzzi with a target, whom she is having sex with in the water, until she suddenly reveals her intention to kill him and shoves his head underwater. As he thrashes about trying to escape, she then grabs a nearby wine glass and smashes it, using it to stab him dead. With subsequent Blood Is Squicker in Water results.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out!: Played straight, in the rather painful-looking scene where Tat-fu have to remove a bullet lodged into his shoulders using a pair of curved tweezers.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Tell that to Siu, who had won the final gun battle against Tat-fu, but somehow feels the need to gloat about it while walking closer to his opponent. Tat-fu even lampshades it:
    Tat-fu: "You've made a mistake... one that a true assassin shouldn't have made. You should have aimed for the head!"