The Killer

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Synopsis

Hong Kong’s preeminent director, John Woo, transforms genres from both the East and the West to create this explosive and masterful action film. Featuring Hong Kong’s greatest star, Chow Yun-fat, as a killer with a conscience, the film is an exquisite dissection of morals in a corrupt society, highlighted with slow-motion sequences of brilliantly choreographed gun battles on the streets of Hong Kong.

Picture 6/10

The Killer is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-layered disc. The image has unfortunately not been enhanced for widescreen televisions. As a whole it's actually not too bad, though nowhere near Criterion's usual quality (but still better than Hard Boiled.

Sharpness and detail isn't strong but it's adequate. Colours look decently saturated, reds coming off quite strong. Black levels are pretty strong and contrast is fairly good. There are some noticeable compression artifacts throughout, more noticeable when zoomed in on with a widescreen television.

The source materials used are pretty rough, with quite a bit of damage and a lot of marks, including stray hairs.

It's not a great looking transfer overall, and an anamorphic enhancement would have helped, but it's the best I've seen the film yet (I still haven't seen the Fox Lorber edition, though) and still beats the image on Criterion's release of Hard Boiled.

Audio 3/10

The sound track sounds pretty awful. The film comes with a Cantonese mono track (and unlike Hard Boiled it doesn’t have an optional English track) and it sounds fairly hollow and compressed. The music is distorted and low, voices sound unnatural and distant, and sound effects try to reach for high levels, but they come off weak and harsh. It doesn’t sound at all good.

Extras 5/10

Compared to its companion release, Hard Boiled, Criterion's edition of The Killer comes off looking fairly bland in terms of supplements, only containing a couple of items.

The audio commentary included here presents John Woo and production executive Terrence Chang and as is typical with most of Criterion's laserdisc and early DVD commentaries the two have been recorded separately and then edited together. Overall it's a fairly engaging track, though I think the track found on Hard Boiled is the better of the two. Woo has the majority of the track, covering his influences (Scorsese and Melville were heavy influences, he even dedicates the film to both of them at the beginning of the track) and his shooting technique, use of motion, editing, and so on. He also talks about the characters, their motivations, and the story. Chang offers a few things on what it's like to work with Woo, his role in the production, and some anecdotes about certain sequences. It has a few dead spots but overall it's engaging and informative.

The next supplement is a collection of five deleted scenes. The notes point out that the film first ran in Taiwan in a longer version but then Woo recut the film for its Hong Kong run, down to 110-minutes. The 110-minute version (which is the version available on this DVD) is his preferred cut. But for the curious Criterion has included the excised scenes, totaling about 7-minutes. Of the sequences the first one is the only major cut with Detective Li saving Jenny from some delinquents, while the remaining four are slight trims. I don't think they offer much (the Li and Jenny sequence really repeats a similar sequence between John and Jenny) and Woo was more than likely right in cutting them to keep the pace of the film going. Still, it's nice to have the scenes (which are in pretty terrible shape, possibly coming from a video source) on their own.

Concluding the disc is a Theatrical Trailer.

Included with the disc is an insert containing an essay by David Chute, which offers a brief analysis of Woo's gangster films and his work in general. It's a brief read, but a decent one.

And that unfortunately closes the release. Very slim, especially when compared to the slightly bigger effort Criterion put into Woo's Hard Boiled.

Closing

Unfortunately this release has been long out of print and the only other region 1 DVD release from Fox Lorber has also gone out of print. I haven't seen the other DVD release from Fox Lorber but I can't imagine it being any better or any worse than the Criterion (though it looks as though the Criterion beats it slightly in the way of supplements.) So as of this moment one's only choice in region 1 is to get the film on DVD through auction sites such as E-Bay, and the Criterion edition can still go for a ridiculous price. I would actually vote against picking this up (unless you are lucky and find it cheap) and waiting for an eventual new DVD release. The Weinstein Company release a new edition of Hard Boiled on DVD which was a drastic improvement and hopefully they might be able to do the same thing to The Killer at some point (apparently there's an issue with the rights in North America.) The Criterion edition isn't a terrible release, but it's transfer and supplements are far from being as good as they could possibly be.

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Directed by: John Woo
Year: 1989
Time: 110 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 8
Licensor: Fox Lorber
Release Date: June 16 1998
MSRP: $39.95
 
DVD
1 Disc | DVD-5
1.85:1 ratio
Cantonese 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English
Regions 1/2/3/4/5/6
 
 Commentary by John Woo and production executive Terence Chang   Deleted scenes   The theatrical trailer   Insert featuring an essay by writer David Chute