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John Woo's The Killer

John Woo's The Killer

Kenneth E. Hall
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 140
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  • Book Info
    John Woo's The Killer
    Book Description:

    A classic tale of loyalty and bloody betrayal, John Woo's The Killer (1989) was centrally important to the growth of Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s and 1990s. It helped launch the international stardom of Woo and lead actor Chow Yun-fat, who plays a disllusioned hitman taking his fatal final assignment to help a lounge singer he accidentally blinded. Illustrating the film's place in the chivalric tradition of Chinese and Hong Kong cinema, where cops and noble villains sometimes join forces in defense of traditional virtues and personal honor, Kenneth Hall documents the strong influence of Woo's mentor Chang Cheh as well as Jean-Pierre Melville and other film noir pioneers. Hall also analyzes the film's influence on other directors, including Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

    eISBN: 978-988-8052-46-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Ackbar Abbas and Wimal Dissanayake
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The Killer (John Woo, 1989) is one of the key films of the Hong Kong New Wave period. It has achieved a secure cult status in the West and has exercised great influence on Western and Asian filmmakers.¹ Additionally, the film served as the springboard for the fame of its director and contributed materially to the early attention given to Hong Kong cinema during the 1990s by Western film critics and audiences. Its connection to the chivalric tradition in Chinese and Hong Kong cinema is readily apparent and important, most particularly its indebtedness to the work of masters such as...

  6. 1 Apprenticeship for The Killer
    (pp. 5-18)

    John Woo, born Ng Yu-sum (Wu Yu-sen) in 1946 in Guangdong, China, emigrated with his family in 1948 to Hong Kong. His father died when John was young, and John was placed under the care of his relatives. He attended the Matteo Ricci school and had aspirations to become a filmmaker. He also developed a deep respect for spirituality and religion.¹

    Woo eventually became an apprentice at Shaw Brothers studios, at that time (the mid-1960s) the pre-eminent studio in Hong Kong. He became an assistant on an early film by Chang Cheh, who was beginning the period in his career...

  7. 2 Production History and Background
    (pp. 19-22)

    Woo came to The Killer with a diversified background in Hong Kong filmmaking. In addition to John Woo’s apprenticeship with Chang Cheh, he had worked as a contract director for Golden Harvest, making some very successful comedies, including Plain Jane to the Rescue with Josephine Siao. Woo’s career had taken a downturn by the mid-1980s due to a series of unsuccessfully realized comedies, and he had been hired by a new company called Cinema City to make more comedies, none of which was successful either critically or financially (see Hall, K.E. 96–97). As noted earlier, his friend Tsui Hark then...

  8. 3 Style and Structure in The Killer
    (pp. 23-44)

    The Killer is a salient example of cross-cultural influence in Hong Kong filmmaking. This is true in generic, thematic, and stylistic or structural terms. The film provides clear glimpses of the join between Western and Asian cultures in its marriage of the hitman/wuxia form; of the Western and Asian chivalric traditions; of Western cinematic technique and Chinese art and film aesthetics; and of specific influence from Western and Asian models. Because the film is self-consciously “artistic,” it is an enlightening exhibit in the study of the fusion of Western and Asian film cultures. One of the most important points of...

  9. 4 Jean-Pierre Melville and Woo
    (pp. 45-56)

    Like John Woo, French director Jean-Pierre Melville has often been considered an unorthodox force in his native cinema. A man of unusual life experience, including membership in the Resistance during World War II, Melville, like American director Samuel Fuller, funneled his autobiography into his filmmaking. His early days as a director of “small” films, and his collaboration with Cocteau, gave way eventually to his maverick work in the gangster genre, the area most influential on John Woo. Both directors worked within genre constraints but preserved their special signature, and both emphasize certain themes such as friendship and loyalty in their...

  10. 5 Woo’s Inheritors: The Killer as Influence
    (pp. 57-72)

    The Killer and other Hong Kong films directed by John Woo are frequently cited as important inspirations for certain filmmakers from the West. Quentin Tarantino heads this list, but among those influenced by Woo, Robert Rodriguez, Tony Scott, and Jim Jarmusch are sometimes mentioned. Other directors such as Luc Besson have also learned from Woo. Much of the borrowing from Woo is superficial — two-handed gunning, doves flying — but in some cases, true homages are made, with Woo becoming a model much as Melville was for Woo himself. The entire question of influence is complex, particularly given the fact that Woo...

  11. 6 Woo after The Killer
    (pp. 73-80)

    The Killer was the spark for Woo’s international career. Just as A Better Tomorrow had been the turning point in his local or regional career, The Killer led to increased international attention to Woo and his work. The film made quite a splash at the 1990 Toronto Film Festival. Early boosters of Woo, and this film, included J. Hoberman and, famously, Quentin Tarantino, but others, like Martin Scorsese, were also helpful in drawing attention to Woo as well as to other Hong Kong directors. Woo achieved an early cult status in the States, with audiences reportedly cheering at showings of...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 81-82)

    John Woo’s The Killer was central to the innovative quality of the new Hong Kong cinema. This film helped to filter Hollywood and European action and noir influences through the web of Chinese traditional motifs found in the chivalric tradition. The Killer brought Woo to the attention of critics in the West and helped thereby to foster the careers of younger Hong Kong, and Korean, filmmakers who in turn have drawn upon Woo’s innovations to create their own original commentaries on the Woo corpus. Woo has also influenced Western filmmakers and has continued to refine his own vision in his...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 83-104)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 105-110)
  15. Filmography
    (pp. 111-118)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 119-125)