Rockstar Recommends: "The Killer"
The Killer (1989; Dir. John Woo)
"He looks determined without being ruthless. Something heroic in his manner. There's a courage about him, doesn't look like a killer. Comes across so calm..."
So describes Hong Kong detective Li to a police sketch artist the mysterious lone assassin he finds himself fascinated with...
While Film Noir and particularly NYC-set detective films are often pointed to as being a key influence on the heritage of the Max Payne franchise, many forget that the touchstones that inspired the series are a bit more international than that – especially the canon of over-the-top Hong Kong shoot-em-ups as pioneered in the 1980s by directors like John Woo and Ringo Lam. Of those, “The Killer” is perhaps the best – with its stylized, over-the-top, slow-motion sequences of balletic gunplay; its melodramatic touches that underscore the action (white doves, mystic sounding vibraphones, candle-lit churches); and the role of the talented yet conscienced killer, played by Chow Yun-fat in one of his many collaborations with Mr. Woo before they both became Hollywood names.
“The Killer” tells the tale of professional assassin, Ah Jong – with no super powers, no sixth senses – but just an almost preternatural ability to sense, react and respond to impending danger in a split-second with razor sharp reflexes and deadly accuracy with a gun of any kind. Just as quick to dispatch a hit with cold-blooded precision as he is to risk his own life and limb to protect an innocent caught in a crossfire - the brooding and conflicted Ah Jong struggles with his own conscience and with issues of guilt and loyalty in his relationships with the detective who hunts him, the longtime friend and business associate who contracts him, and the sweet lounge singer he cares for. All that said, action film aficionados will probably delight most in those insane slo-mo bullet-riddled shootouts from start to finish.
NB – Rap fans will get an extra kick of out of this one, recognizing many scenes (from the English-dubbed version) as being sampled liberally on the 1995 classic album, Only Built for Cuban Linx... by Raekwon the Chef of the Wu-Tang Clan.