The Killer
UNIVERSE
 
Starring:
Directed By:
John Woo
Year:
1989
Run Time:
111mins
Producer: Universe
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Languages:
CANTONESE 5.1, Mandarin 5.1
Subtitles:
Removable Chinese (S+T), English, Japanese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, French.
W/S Subtitles:
No
Ratio:
1.85:1 Non Anamorphic
Region:
NTSC 0
Genre:
Heroic Bloodshed / Drama - II
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MOVIE
10/10

To say that The Killer is a superb action movie is to do the film a great injustice whilst also paying it a justified complement. Whilst it does feature many impressively shot action scenes, The Killer is by no means your average Hong Kong shoot 'em up...

Having accidentally blinded a nightclub singer in a bar, Jeff, a hired assassin, sees his chance to atone for his past sins.
Looking after Jennie gives Jeff a rare glimpse of the peace missing from his life, and whilst she is unaware of who he is, gives his world some meaning.
Tracking him down is Inspector Lee, a cop who only sees the evil Jeff has done, and is intent on bringing his suspect to justice.
However, Jeff reveals himself to be more than just a callous murderer, and Inspector Lee's cast-iron opinion soon begins to change.

As Jeff, Chow Yun-Fat excels in his role, making the viewer straddle an uncomfortable line between loathing what he has done, whilst sympathising, and admiring, what he is trying to do.
So many elements make up Chow's performance that it's almost impossible to put them into words. His characters struggle with his past, present and future is painful, although utterly absorbing, to watch, and throughout the film his inner torment is all too evident.
His shocking moments of seemingly emotionless violence are juxtaposed with his care and concern for not only his friends, but also any innocent victims of his "job".
It's this strange blend of humanity and inhumanity which makes his character so captivating, and is ultimately what drives the film onwards.


The rest of the cast are also exceptional - none more so than Chu Kong and Danny Lee.
In some ways Lee's character is the most interesting of them all: A cop who gradually begins to admire his suspects lifestyle, envying his supposed freedom, as well as his code of ethics - something he feels is missing from his own life.
Lee's portrayal is just as effective as Chow's, never appearing overplayed or forced, and their scenes together show great chemistry.

Quite simply this is one of Hong Kong's finest exports.
Woo manages to mix fierce action and subtle character interplay, whilst also exploring the complexities of his characters. Add to this an incredibly absorbing plot, and you have one of the
greatest Hong Kong films ever made.

READ THE DVD COMPARISON HERE

PICTURE
7/10

On first viewing, I was fairly disappointed with the image quality of this Universe disc. Not only did it contain numerous scratches and marks but also seemed to vary wildly in terms of detail from scene to scene.
On further inspection all became clear...
Whilst the transfer is technically excellent, the prints condition isn't.
Certain scenes look superb (such as the Dragon Boat Race Assassination) with strong colours and excellent detail.
Unfortunately, other scenes don't fare so well, looking drab and slightly soft.
Aside from the prints limitations, the technical aspects of this disc are very good. The bit-rate is consistently high, showing that Universe were determined to squeeze as much detail as possible from the source material.
Some noticeable grain is evident in a few scenes, but much of this can be put down the the lack of care taken in storing the original negatives.
Detail is very good and colour reproduction is generally excellent, being well-defined and bold, and shows off the films cinematography.
Darker scenes are also handled very well, with blacks staying black, and close-ups revealing much more detail than previously seen in any VHS incarnation.

I had trouble marking the discs overall picture quality, due to its two differing aspects - Print Condition and Technical transfer.
In conclusion, I feel 7/10 is a fair compromise:
If wear and print condition irritate you, take a point off, if not, then add a point.

SOUND
6/10

A good 5.1 remix. The front surrounds are effectively used to reproduce music and the odd directional effect, and are clear and strong.
Unfortunately, centre channel sound is not quite as good. My main gripe is it's lack of "punch" when guns are fired - if you listen to the film's Theatrical trailer, the gunshots are much beefier, and add more impact to the gun battles.
As the movie progresses, this problem becomes less evident, and begins to reveal more intricacies in the soundtrack which weren't heard on the VHS versions.
Some distortion can be heard, and the over-the-top surround speaker usage can become very irritating at times.

SUBTITLES
9/10

Obviously expecting this disc to appeal to a large English-speaking contingent, Universe have done an excellent job of translating the films dialogue.
A few spelling mistakes appear on occasion, but other than that the subs are near perfect, allowing the viewer to concentrate on the film rather than having to decipher the text.

MENUS
5/10

Plain and dull, these old-style Universe menus are not something you're going to be impressed with. However, considering the lack of extras, I'll doubt you'll spend more than a couple of seconds moving around them.
To give Universe some credit there are some good, clear pictures dotted around the screens.

EXTRAS
3/10

8 Chapter-stops, filmographies for Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee and John Woo, and the theatrical trailer equals a poor set of "extras".
I was particularly disappointed with the filmographies - Sally Yeh, Tsang Kong and Chu Kong have substantial roles in the movie, and to not include further information on these actors was a lazy move by Universe.

PACKAGING
5/10

The rather plain front cover features some good images of Chow and Lee, as does the reverse, but overall the packaging is uninspiring.
The plot synopsis on the back is a big step up from some of their other discs but it's by no means brilliant, with a liberal sprinkling of grammatical errors.

CONCLUSION
8/10

So far there have been three incarnations of The Killer on DVD - Winstar, Criterion and Universe. Having only seen the this version I don't feel qualified to recommend one over the other so instead I've included a small summary at the bottom of the review which document the differences between these releases.
Whilst the much lauded Criterion disc is supposedly THE version to own, it's now out of print.
Although I may have been fairly harsh on the films condition, I expected it to some degree, and therefore don't regret buying this disc for a second.

Put simply - if you own a DVD player, you MUST own this disc.

MOVIE
10/10
PICTURE
7/10
SOUND
6/10
SUBTITLES
9/10
EXTRAS
3/10
MENUS
5/10
PACKAGING
5/10
OVERALL
8/10