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The Killer

Year: 1989
Studio: Golden Harvest
Director: John Woo
Writer: John Woo
Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Danny Lee, Sall Yeh

To see where both John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat started, look no further. I'm not entirely sure how far back the Hong Kong martial arts/action film movement goes beyond the likes of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, but this was a pivotal milestone.

Yun-Fat is assassin Ah Jong, a hired killer who never runs out of bullets and never misses. During a routine hit on a businessman in a club, he injures pretty young singer Jenny (Yeh), all-but blinding her. He becomes wracked with guilt, following and protecting the girl from the shadows wherever she goes.

While dogged investigator Ling (Lee) is on the case, Ah Jong rescues Jennie from a mugging, having no choice but to make contact with her and walk her back to her apartment. As Lee closes in on Jong's latest hits and the pandemonium they cause, Jong and Jennie fall in love, and he resolves to use one last payday to send her overseas for the operation she needs to restore her sight.

But as it always is with one last job, his bosses intend to double cross Jong, and when Lee tracks him to his house, a private army of disposable goons descends, leaving the pair with no choice but to team up and try to escape with all guns blazing.

It's been set up early that Lee feels he understands the essentially decent Jong, so when he decides to befriend rather than arrest the assassin it's not quite an eye-rolling plot contrivance. The entire film's moral outlook is kind of simplistic anyway.

Jong asks Lee to help him escape or – if the worst happens – get Jenny out of the country to save her sight. The two make one final stand in a church full of doves (Woo's signature motif for years to come), and the number of bullets and squibs of blood that fly are outrageous.

At the time it had the highest body count in history, a claim easy to believe in the pre-CGI era. It has a simple, almost child-like premise and a lot of corny dialogue and cheap effects. There are several scenes of bad J-pop and soul searching with cigarettes, long coast and winsome looks over Hong Kong harbor but when the pain comes you'll have as good a time as you can expect with any action film. Yun Fat unloads his gun into so many minions – blowing them away with six, seven or 10 rounds each – it's an instant and bloody cult classic.

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