Didn’t Like In the Mood for Love? Try The Killer!

john woo the killer cover
In the Mood for Love – Melanie Dejesus and Falling for a Fiction

I can understand not liking In the Mood for Love. As good a movie as it is, there are a few flaws. I think at times, for instance, though it’s done on purpose, some of the time jumps can negatively disorient an audience. The movie moves slowly—again, on purpose—and so it ain’t for everybody. It’s also not really what Americans have come to expect from Hong-Kong cinema, though that’s really a perceptual error more than an actual flaw with the film. But if you’re one of the folks who wasn’t in the mood for In the Mood for Love, let me recommend to you the ultimate Hong-Kong action film, John Woo’s The Killer

Arising out of the Hong-Kong New Wave of the 80s and 90s, guys like director John Woo and producer Tsui Hark reformed the action genre. And The Killer is possibly the most towering achievement in the New Hong-Kong Action Cinema!

Essentially a thematic remake of Melville’s Le Samourai, coupled with the hard-hitting violence of The Wild Bunch and stylization akin to Powell-Pressberger musicals, The Killer stars Chow Yun-Fat as an assassin-for-hire working for a Triad gang. A hit goes bad. He hurts an innocent woman, then becomes her caregiver. At the same time a cop, hot on his trail, finds Chow’s lady friend and starts asking questions. Simple as that. And yet, as it plays out, it’s also emotionally and relationally complex. 

Chow Yun-Fat and Danny Lee Sau-Yin in John Woo's The Killer

The first thing to talk about here is style. This is a changing of the guard moment in action film history. Almost single-handedly, Woo created the stylized action-thriller. There’s slow-motion; tricky editing; spinning cameras; gun-fu; and most of all, Woo’s favorite flavor-sprinkling of Christian imagery. Notoriously Woo is a believer (his spiritual engagement undisclosed) and he often sets his stories up to reflect certain Christian moral quandaries. In addition to that he’s fond of using churches as settings and doves as symbols of peace—or peace disrupted by chaos, depending on the scene. He’s also fond of using highly expressive lighting, with gels and neon all over the place in The Killer. This thing is breathtaking to look at. 

Add to that some really good performances. Chow Yun-Fat is the guy to watch, doling out his most iconic role as Ah Jong, the Killer. Jong is equal amounts cold and calculating as well as passionate and melodramatic. Chow somehow does the balancing act perfectly, as shown in the gunfight scene at the lounge. You’ll get it when you see it. But it’s not just Chow who’s great. The cop, Lee Ying (as played by Danny Lee), is just as good. He’s got a fire that burns just below the surface and erupts during action scenes. He also just seems like such a cool guy. Then there’s Sally Yeh as Jennie, the lounge singer, who is kind of over-the-top, but just enough to add that extra soapy melodrama the movie needs. 

Thematically, this one isn’t crazy shallow nor overly deep. But there’s much to be said about a movie that still believes in honor, brotherhood, and moral rightness. Often in the action genre, masculinity can be broken down into a series of actions: sex, fighting, killing, repeat. In The Killer, however, masculinity is truly found in the aforementioned concepts, and not just in uncomplicated good men, but even in men who work in the gray areas. Jong doesn’t want to stay a killer for hire. He feels the pull toward good. Lee doesn’t feel he’s doing enough good; and by trying to catch Jong, he finds commonality and brotherhood in an unlikely place. And if you think the two of them are gonna get away without defending the honor of a woman, you’ve clearly never seen a John Woo actioner. 

Listen, this thing ain’t perfect and there are things that may strike certain audiences as “cheesy” or “parochial”. Sure, criticize away. But the rest of us are gonna have a good time with this one because it purports to be a great action movie and it actually is one. There are so few movies like this that truly deliver and maybe even overdeliver. Take my word for it, if you can find this one, watch it. It ain’t easy getting it, but hey, every movie fan needs something to aspire to. 

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Stephen McFerron Christian Podcast Cinematic Doctrine

Stephen McFerron likes movies. It’s that simple. From the lowest depths of the drive-in to the highest peaks of arthouse; the grand golden age to superhero spectacles, he’s all in! Since watching Gremlins and Jaws at a young age, Stephen has had an appetite for the strange and fantastic, as well as the old! If you’re here to explore movie history, or learn more about the best of today, Stephen’s your guide! He may even say something mildly profound along the way… if he’s lucky!

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