Action Movies Ain’t What They Used to Be: They’re Better

I’ve been hearing about how great John Woo’s The Killer is for a long time. It appears on a lot of “best of action” lists, and so when I saw it was on Netflix, how could I pass it up?

It turns out, the question should have been, “Would I actually be able to finish it?”

I was, but mainly because I just hung in there and refused to give up, spreading the movie over several lunch breaks. I’d watch until I got bored, then I’d set it aside and come back to it the next day. I got bored a lot.

The plot is fairly straightforward: an assassin wants to get paid and save the vision of a girl he accidentally blinded during a hit gone bad. Some cops are after him, as well as the guy who owes him money and doesn’t want to pay up. Action ensues.

But it’s the action where things really fall apart for me. The film makes some stabs at characterization, but they go mostly nowhere, so it’s the action that has to hold the story together and keep the audience interested. Perhaps this movie worked better when it was released almost 30 years ago, but these days? I just don’t see it. There’s no real suspense. No question of whether or not the hero will die before the ending. Guns are always loaded with plenty of bullets, except for a scene or two where they conveniently aren’t. The good guys never miss (how could they, with the amount of lead they’re shooting?) and the bad guys always do.

Except when they don’t, and then it’s always conveniently in a spot that apparently the hero didn’t really need to function anyway.

Of course, since this is John Woo, we have random birds in all of the action scenes. Because birds.

The movie just doesn’t work. Even the editing of the action scenes leaves much to be desired. They shoot and continue to shoot until they stop shooting, which is the only way to tell if all the bad guys are dead or not. Really, each shootout could continue for an arbitrary amount of time. Just keep on having bloody explosions until you get tired and feel like taking a break.

Maybe it’s not the movie’s fault. Maybe it’s another example of me changing. But I still love action movies. (At least, I thought I did.) It’s just that I ask a bit more of them these days. I want to know what the hero is facing. When he gets out of scrape, I want to believe it was possible. It has to make sense logistically.

The Killer just . . . doesn’t. 6/10. The big discussion board posts on IMDB wondering how in the world this movie isn’t in the top 250 are really off base. It’s not a great movie, and I’m not going to say it is just because it’s got a cult following. Maybe it should be appreciated for the influence it had on later movies in the genre. I can see that argument being made. But if you’re looking for a rollicking good action flick, look elsewhere.

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