Hard Times [1975]

The Killer John Woo's 1989 Hong Kong action classic, a stylish, bullet-riddled elegy to friendship under fire, firmly established him as the maestro of mayhem. Superstar Chow Yun-fat, Asia's king of cool, plays the most charming hit man ever (and yes, he only takes contracts on those who deserve it), but when one of his killings leaves an innocent nightclub singer (Sally Yeh) blinded, he dedicates his life to giving her back her sight. Danny Lee is the cop on his tail, but the two adversaries become unlikely comrades when the mob decides to cancel its debt to Chow by taking him out, leading to a beautifully filmed and incredibly violent confrontation. Woo places the showdown in a church and punctuates the acrobatic gunfight with images of religious icons, flying doves, and burning candles. An ode to Jean-Pierre Melville's existential gangster classic Le Samourai, Woo's delirious mix of melodrama and stylized action recalls the balletic bloodletting of Sam Peckinpah, the elegant camerawork of Martin Scorsese, and the operatic, larger-than-life grandeur of Sergio Leone. Woo's love of American musicals (and his own background as a dance instructor) adds a touch of grace to the fluid choreography of the action scenes. In terms of sheer action, Woo topped himself a few years later with Hard-Boiled, his Hong Kong swan song, but most critics still rate The Killer as his masterpiece. --Sean Axmaker Hard-Boiled Masterful Hong Kong action director John Woo (The Killer, Face/Off) turns in this exciting and pyrotechnic tale of warring gangsters and shifting loyalties. Chow Yun-fat (The Replacement Killers) plays a take-no-prisoners cop on the trail of the triad, the Hong Kong Mafia, when his partner is killed during a gun battle. His guilt propels him into an all-out war against the gang, including an up-and-coming soldier in the mob (Tony Leung) who turns out to be an undercover cop. The two men must come to terms with their allegiance to the force and their loyalty to each other as they try to take down the gangsters. A stunning feast of hyperbolic action sequences (including a climactic sequence in an entire hospital taken hostage), Hard-Boiled is a rare treat for fans of the action genre, with sequences as thrilling and intense as any ever committed to film. --Robert Lane

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