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THE KILLER

Hong Kong, 1989 (MIFF 1990)

Director: John Woo

THE KILLER is a prime example of the type of filmmaking at which the Hong Kong film industry is most adept. With clear nods at the gamut of film genres from the thriller to the melodrama, writer and director John Woo has distilled a veritable pot-pourri of themes, styles and forms culled from a range of genres that promises to appeal equally to film historians as to aficionados of the action genre.

The result is a bizarre concoction that places Sirkian melodrama, kinetic action, heady romance and homoerotic buddies smack dab in the middle of a thriller that explodes almost incessantly with choreographed shoot-outs and cartoon-book violence, a couple of designer-dressed, Miami Vice-style cops, and a whole lot more. "The Killer starts out over the top, then, like some cartoon freakout, blasts through the roof," writes J. Hoberman in The Village Voice, who declared the film one of the ten best of 1989.

"Woo's high-octane mixture of outlandishly stylised camp and outrageously sensational shootouts suggests Magnificent Obsession remade by Sam Peckinpah. The lurid nightclub lighting and lunatic mawkishness is matched only by the choreographed violence," he wrote. It all comes together in the story of a brawny hit-man known simply as Jeff who during an assignment accidently blinds the singer. Naturally, honour will demand that he return and pay for the operation that will allow the young singer to see again. A maverick policeman intercedes, but it rums out he is Jeff's long-lost childhood pal — "Dumbo!" one cries. "Mickey Mouse!" the other answers — in what Hoberman dubs "a male-bonding drama pitched somewhere between safe sex and the sandbox."

Remarkably, Woo doesn't allow the film to become scattered with the plethora of influences and borrowings. He keeps a tight-fisted control over the action, without letting the human drama, with all its magnificently-sweeping melodramatic overtones, falter. -(PKa)

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