If you have never seen The Killer, a masterpiece of Hong Kong cinema, I suggest you cancel your plans for Saturday night, turn off your mobile phone and ready the bucket of popcorn, because you'd be in for a treat. This is Shakespeare with bullets.
Made in 1989, in director John Woo Yu-sen's "heroic bloodshed" era, The Killer (SCM Legend, Saturday at 10pm) stars Chow Yun-fat (above) as tragic hero Ah Jong (or Jeff, or John, depending on which subtitles are shown), a hitman who accidentally damages the eye of singer Jennie (Sally Yeh Chen-ven) in a shootout. Knowing she will go blind without an expensive operation, the moralistic assassin, through guilt but ultimately love, takes on one last job to pay for the surgery. However, as you might expect, things go a little awry - Ah Jong is spotted by Detective Li Ying (Danny Lee Sau-yin) and, what with the policeman's determination to catch the killer, a strange, almost brotherly relationship builds between them. Both men driven by a sense of duty, the line between good and evil becomes blurred as they are drawn closer.
Of course, this being Woo, it's a frenetic, blood-soaked action movie; but it's also a heart and soul drama about honour, friendship and loyalty. Yes, there are all of Woo's trademark cinematic stylings: the twin guns, the stand-offs, the doves in the church, the almost balletic violence. But it's when the pace quietens, in between the hailstorms of bullets, that the film really grabs hold of you.
Woo was heavily influenced by the westerns of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, by Akira Kurosawa and by Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai, and as with all of his films, this one is somewhat flawed by way of being overly melodramatic. But even the clichéd plot and sappy soundtrack can't detract from this tale of crime, justice and selfless love. The Killer's raw intensity, Chow's brooding charisma and the final act of supercharged carnage make it damn near perfect.