Before I’m gunned down, a quick clarification: That rating isn’t for the 1989 movie itself, a work of genius. “I put all of my dreams into this film,” says Hong Kong director John Woo in an interview included on this shoddy two-disc set; he humbly mentions Jean-Pierre Melville’s ultracool Le Samoura, Martin Scorsese, even Hollywood musicals. To the list of dreams, let’s also add Woo’s fluttering pigeons (here for the first time), as well as the melodramatic pose of two admiring antagonists locked in an armed embrace. American critics took note, as did Quentin Tarantino. It’s not a stretch to call The Killer the most influential foreign film of the past 30 years, as key in its own way as Rashomon.
We’re due for a definitive DVD. So this new “ultimate edition” comes as a major disappointment. The image quality of the movie itself is poor, perhaps derived from a secondary source, and loaded with distracting noise. One can certainly get a feel for Woo’s luxurious colors and composition (actually improved upon in Hard-Boiled and Face/Off), but this is an unacceptable transfer.
Where’s our feature-length Woo commentary? Other editions have had one—and this is easily a production that merits it. (Criterion’s long-out-of-print platter even invites HK-exec Terence Chang to the chat.) The second disc includes many redundancies, like two postscreening interviews with the director in which he repeats himself. A chirpy host revisits the locations, but you ache for the original U.S. trailer, a hilarious bit of overselling. Instead, you get two lackluster alternates. And there should have been a doc discussing the film’s impact; chatty celebs would have no doubt paid the respect that’s lacking from most of this package.—Joshua Rothkopf
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