The Killer follows a professional hit-man, Ah Jong, with a code of honor. During the opening moments of the film Ah Jong engages in a gunfight inside a crowded night club, that results in the club's performer, Jennie, loosing her eye sight from Ah Jong's muzzle flash. He does his best too wrap her eye's in his wife scarf before the police arrive, and the killer slips into the darkness to mend his wounds at a church undergoing renovations.
Across town undercover hard boiled police officer, Li Ying, is intercepting an illegal weapons shipment. Things turn to bloodshed as a patrol officer happens across the men, one of the criminals kills the officer; Li Ying and his partner kill several of the gun runners but one slips away. They give chase through the streets of China and the pursuit ends on a bus. The criminals takes a hostage and Inspector Ying takes a shot. The gunrunner goes down, but the women he's holding suffers a heart attack (we later learn she has a bad heart) and she dies. This puts Ying at odds with his department, as it's bad for P.R., and Ying offers up his badge. He's allowed to continue on the case, but they let him know that there watching him carefully.
The Killer uses these characters with and against each other very effectively, and they keep a strong amount of tension throughout it, but they wouldn't be nearly as effective without the powerful performances throughout the movie. Chow Yun Fat and Kenneth Tsang especially give the movie very strong performances, together there's an natural bond, and an overbearing tension. Chow Yun Fat struts through the film with enough grace, bravado, and attitude too match Clint Eastwood, or Toshiro Mifune.While he's a bad ass his character also gets drug through a lot of pain, and bad luck; he's easy too relate to due to his strict morale code, that puts the audience right in his corner. Chow Yun Fat takes all aspects of the character to the absolute limit, and an intensity that no one could duplicate.
Kenneth Tsang perhaps gives the movies strongest supporting performance, as a man challenged by upholding his position in the Triad or the dishonor of betraying his oldest friend. Kenneth Tsang and Chow Yun Fat really drive this movie from the opening scene so there friend ship and emotions are a very major part of what makes this an enjoyable film; almost equally as important is Fat's relationship with Danny Lee's character Officer Ying, in many ways Ying feels a kind of kinship with Fat's character. Both certainly have there similarities: Jong's trouble with the Triad, has under tones of Ying's trouble inside the police force; both live by there weapons, and a strict cold of honor that clashes with there superiors.
As a character Ah Jong has one primary driving force, Jenny. More so then the money the Triad's owe him, the bounty they have on his head, or his trouble with the police. Ah Jong repeatedly risks his life to visit her, or just to speak to her on the phone. He's unquestioningly loyal, and full of genuine regret at the pain he's brought into her life. This can lead too some of the film's lighter moment's, altough in a film like the killer these tender moments never hold so long that they take away from the three way struggle Ah Jon is in the middle of.
There are many shoot outs in the killer, and certainly many people are killed; but the violence isn't gratuitous, although it comes often enough to rack up a kill cont of over 100 characters. There's no unnecessary bits of brains or gore tossed in and it's shot so much style and skill that it's a pleasure to watch while keeping the bullet wounds and bloods realistic enough so it servers more so as a de-glorification of murder. It's filled with stunning visuals from the spectacular shoot outs, to breath taking urban vistas; and John Woo brings his own artistic flourishes, with creative lighting, use of color, and tons of symbolism.
The Killer is a very entertaining, and without it's great performances it would just be an exercise in style. The performances, and John Woo's artistic vision really help make this movie special. Definitely worth a watch for action movie fans, or fans of cinema in general.