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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Killer’ a Brash, Violent Tribute to Many Genres

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sentimentality and violence have gone hand-in-hand from the beginning of the movies, but seldom have they been carried to such extremes and played against each other with such effectiveness as in writer-director John Woo’s “The Killer” (Nuart), an example of the highly addictive, supercharged, go-for-broke Hong Kong cinema at its most deliberately outrageous.

Woo sets off a plot with more twists and turns than a drive up Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak with the simplest of premises: a hired killer (Chow Yun-Fat), takes on one last job but accidentally blinds a nightclub singer (Sally Yeh) while opening fire all over the joint. As a man of honor, he must accept yet another last job to pay for the cornea transplant that will restore her sight.

Fortunately for us, Woo is as concerned with exploring character as is he is in staging action with the explosiveness of a string of firecrackers.

He is clearly intent on seeing just how far he can go in serving up super-violent exploitation fare while turning his entire film into a tribute to different genres. It’s as if he wants to evoke the carnage of “The Wild Bunch” and the kinetic fury of “The French Connection” but restore to the screen a romantic code of behavior of vintage Hollywood Westerns and gangster pictures.

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Consequently, the central relationship is not between Chow and Yeh, who predictably fall in love, but between Chow and the maverick cop (Danny Lee) in pursuit of him. Recognizing themselves in each other (and also that they were childhood friends) they carry male bonding to the extent that they’re the film’s true lovers; indeed, Chow calls Lee “Dumbo” and Lee calls Chow “Mickey Mouse,” their nicknames as children.

Woo has come up with a picture that would play as well in a grind house as in an art theater, for at the same time he knowingly risks parody at every turn he’s also churning up visceral appeal to the max.

The Nuart is acting responsibly in restricting “The Killer,” which is unrated, to adults only. What grown-ups can perceive as a cartoon-like Pop art fantasy, its mayhem and bloodshed as carefully choreographed as a ballet, could easily give youngsters nightmares.


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