The Killer is a 1989 Hong Kong action/crime film written and directed by John Woo and starring Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh and Kenneth Tsang. It was a critically acclaimed film production for producer's Tsui Hark's Film Workshop. The story follows Ah Jong (Chow-Yun Fat), the killer who accidentally hurts the eyes of the pop singer Jennie (Sally Yeh). Later, he meets Jennie and finds that she needs an expensive operation due to accident or she will go blind. To get the money for the surgery, Jeff decides to perform one last hit. Insp. Li Ying (Danny Lee), who has been chasing Jeff for a long time, is determined to catch him.
Producer Tsui Hark and his production studio argued with John Woo throughout the production of the film. Changes including the idea of even producing another action film to the market, the music use, and film styles such as slow motion were debated over between Woo and Tsui. On its release the film was not a commercial success in Hong Kong, but a great critical success both overseas and in Hong Kong where it won Best Director and Best Editing at the 9th Hong Kong Film Awards.
After witnessing Ah-Jong save a dying girl and learning about Jennie's operation, the cop realizes arresting this hitman would not set things right. Together they fight the Triads through amazing action sequences which ultimately climax in an explosive shootout at an abandoned church. There, Ah-Jong has Li Ying swear to donate the hitman's eyes to Jennie if something were to happen to him.
The ending is tragic, in that Ah-Jong dies, his eyes shot out by the Triad boss, Wong Hoi. Jennie is left crawling for him in the dark, her operation unrealized. The boss flees to police custody, but Li Ying chases after him: Li Ying realizes that the law could never give someone like Ah-Jong justice, so he acts under his own sense of right and wrong and shoots the boss in cold blood.
The Killer was heavily influenced by French director Jean-Pierre Melville's 1967 crime film Le Samouraï. Parts of Le Samouraï are borrowed such as the introduction to scene at a nightclub that mimics the same introduction scene in Woo's film. Woo also described influence from crime films from Japan in the 1960s. The friendship/rivalry between Ah Jong and Insp. Li Ying was influenced by the Spy vs. Spy comics from Mad Magazine. Woo recalled "When I was young I was fascinated with the cartoon–I love it very much...the white bird and the black bird are always against each other, but deep in their heart, they are still friendly, and the idea came from that."
Woo's first cut of the film was 142 minutes long, over half an hour longer then most home video versions of the film. Woo cut this version of the film after the initial Hong Kong release of the film, which cut out a sub-plot of Yun-Fat's character's best friend who works in the same triad. Parts of this cut material appears in a Taiwan print of the film. At a 1998 screening of the Taiwan cut of the film, frequent Woo collaborator and film editor David Wu spoke negatively about the cut version saying "I had no idea this version even existed, and if I find out who re-cut this movie without our knowing about it I'm going to kick his butt".
On its release to an English speaking audience, the amount of violence was also noted. In Britain where the film was given an "x-rating" and in American ad campaigns warned of "extreme graphic violence". Woo recalls that "I was really surprised by the reaction some people had to the movie...I think I care too much about romanticism. In the future, [I] have to look deeper into the people." English critics response also noted the homoerotic nature between the two male characters of Danny Lee's character and Chow's character. Woo responded to these comments saying "People will bring their own preconceptions to a movie...If they see something in The Killer that they consider to be homoerotic, then that's their privilege...a lot of things people have pointed out about my work were never intended when I made this film." The Killer very positive critical acclaim with English critics. On the film ratings website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has one of the highest rating for an action film with 100% positive reviews with an 8.9 average based on 29 reviews.