The Killer (Hong Kong, 1989):
(Die Xue Shuang Xiong)

The killer is Chow Yun-Fat, located by John Woo's roving camera in church, a million candles providing "tranquility" for his rendezvous with Chu Kong, who brings him the latest hit-job. Slow-mo for the exit, then "Another quiet tear streaks down my face" sung by Sally Yeh at the lounge, moments prior to the first of the film's celebrated bullet-ballets -- mega close-ups of eyes, since Yeh is soon to have her own vision shattered in the crossfire, caught in the popping, firecracker-string effect of Woo's voluminous shootouts. A (literal) shot of Yun-Fat amid splattering reds proves the last image imprinted in the singer's mind, so the killer, filled with remorse, takes to protecting her; a final job, an assassination at a boat contest, is for retirement, really to assure funds for Yeh's cornea-transplant operation. The hit is finished with a bull's eye, outsized rifle filling the screen diagonally then dumped into the sea, followed by emergency-room tumult (getaway put on hold to aid an injured moppet) that introduces Yun-Fat and his eyes, "full of passion," to undercover copper Danny Lee. From then on, the purefied romance of men and guns, the mating call of the Mexican standoff structured as gag (the guys holding pistols to each other's faces, one giving the other cartoon names while clueless Yeh prepares tea), the lyricism capped by freeze-frame and dissolve onto their outdated codes of honor. Double-crossing kingpin Fui-On Shing wants Yun-Fat offed, as batallions of henchmen get sent in for the astonishingly choreographed decimations, dozens of mini detonations, a hired gun's stabbing providing the closest to a moment of calm. The connection to musicals has been made enough, though Woo's template may be White Heat, and the intensity of betrayal and redemption has much of Walsh-Cagney's outsized delirium; "honor is now a dirty word," intercut with the savage beating of a chum, who gets the movie's wacky-tender peak by welcoming a bullet into his brain by Yun-Fat. Woo brings the showdown back to church for a jaw-dropping blur of arsenal, kinetics and unbridled emotionalism, the medium distilled to motion and, literally, vision. With Kenneth Tsang, Wing-Cho Yip, Fan Wei Yee, and Barry Wong.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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