I give this movie 7 stars out of 5. I give this release 2 stars out of 5.
A magnificent and one of the most influential action/drama movies ever made.
This release, the only one for the North American market, is lack-luster. Cleaned up from original film holes, dirt and dust, sound track noise but offset substantially by the quality of the digital video and audio encoding and compression. The original Cantonese track is mono (expected) but the English dub track is mono too (very unexpected). Subtitles are better than some other releases of this movie. Extra features OK, but not in keeping with a movie of this significance in Asian cinema and action cinema.
This post has some very detailed comments on this movie as a movie, followed by objective facts about the DVD followed by some opinions.
This is one of the most important and influential police thriller, action drama movies ever made and certainly to have ever come from Hong Kong. It is a magnificent stylized gun-fu bullet ballet expanding on themes and character types from previous John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat works such as A better Tomorrow and A Better Tomorrow 2. It is loosely a remake of Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Samouraï" starring Alain Delon and the chanbara film "Gyangu 9" starring Ken Takakura.
Alain Delon and French police thrillers had such an influence on John Woo that we see Chow Yun-Fat, in the role that made him a star in "A Better Tomorrow", wearing Alain Delon designer sunglasses with the dark duster/raincoat. Although Chow Yun-Fats characters later wore the now classic Ray Bay Wayfarers, this matchstick chewing, cigarette smoking, designer sunglass wearing duster/raincoat clad image became iconic with Chow Yun-Fat's characters in A Better Tomorrow and subsequent John Woo movies.
For John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat, the dove imagery, the stylized gun-fu bullet ballet and the iconic presentation of the Chow Yun-Fat character all reach their pinnacle in this movie, The Killer. This is the one that defined it all for many, many movies to follow.
For many in western cultures, the gun-play, heroic bloodshed and the intense action scenes are an overwhelming distraction from the more important dramatic content. They are often confused as the central purpose of the movie like so many action genre movies from Hollywood that are devoid of any substance in character development or dramatic content.
In John Woo Hong Kong films, the gun-play, heroic bloodshed and intense action are stylized supporting elements only. The serve to support the emotional intensity and importance that the themes in the dramatic content are to the central characters. It is through the test of intense mortal conflict that the central characters palpably demonstrate their commitment to their mores and beliefs. Because of the history of Chinese, especially Hong Kong, cinema with intense sword-play, heroic bloodshed and similar elements going back to its roots in Chinese Opera, these elements are less distracting and better understood by Hong Kong and Chinese audiences.
As with earlier John Woo films with Chow-Yun Fat, dramatic themes include the conflicts between honor and duty, the conflicting mores between incumbent and incoming generations and power brokers, the discovery of where one's honor and duty truly lie and the redemption through self-sacrifice, including one's own death, for one's true honor and duty.
For The Killer, many may see these iconic character types, themes and actions as clichéd. However, it is important to remember that A Better Tomorrow, A Better Tomorrow 2 and, especially The Killer, created these iconic character types themes and actions that, through imitation and homage elsewhere since, have perhaps reached the level of cliché. This kind of continuous imitation and homage demonstrate the real significance of this movie.
Here are my observations:
Media and Standard: DVD5 containing DVD Video
Scenes: 1-4, 5-8. 9-12, 13-16
Audio Options: Cantonese, English
Captions & Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Spanish, None
Movie, including leader, 1h 46m 18s
2) Disc Two:
Media and Standard: DVD5 containing DVD Video
Li Defends Jenny As John Watches
The Police Force Looks For John
John And Jenny Find Happiness
John And Jenny Share Breakfast With Sidney
The Hunt Continues
Interview With Director John Woo
American Cinematheque Q&A On The Killer (2002)
American Cinematheque Q&A On Hard Boiled (2002)
The Killer Locations
John Woo Trailer Gallery
The Killer Original Theatrical Trailer
The Killer UK Promotional Trailer
Last Hurrah For Chivalry Trailer
A Better Tomorrow Trailer
Hard Boiled Trailer
Captions & Subtitles
English For The Hearing Impaired
3) There appear significant numbers of single frames that are highly pixelated and visible on a 20in display.
4) There appear significant single frames that comprise at least two cinema frames overlaid and are visible on a 20in display.
5) There is a little or no shadow and dark/black object detail.
6) There are significant visible quantization/anti-aliasing artifacts, especially in face close-ups, smoke/haze and strongly backlit scenes and are visible on a 20in display.
7) The holes, dust and dirt from the original film source commonly seen in other releases are removed.
8) There are audio distortions, especially with sibilant "esses", especially from Sally Yeh.
9) The crackles and pops in the audio track sometimes heard in other releases and clips are removed.
10) It lacks a "crispness".
Here are my opinions:
1) For as an important movie as this in Hong Kong and action/drama cinema history and as important as it is to Asian cinema fans, this release is lack-luster.
2) Although nicely cleaned up from holes and dirt, increased contrast, some increased saturation and audio track clean-up, these improvements are substantially offset by the artifacts and loss of shadow/dark detail and some crispness. I find the artifacts and detail loss VERY annoying in places and I'm a farily forgiving viewer. The video encoding details are all the explanation needed as to why all these problems exist in this release.
3) All audio is monaural, AC3 2.0 Dolby and there is no 5.1 or stereo option of any kind. This is deplorable. It is appropriate to offer original mono tracks so that critical viewers can experience the the original exhibition sound and, especially, the original looped voices. However, it is much more enjoyable to many to have at least a stereo processed sound and preferrably a 5.1 processed sound, well done, for general viewing. These are not difficult to produce and have appeared in a huge number of near vintage movies such as this one.
4) It would be pure conjecture to state that the artifacts and absence of more substantial audio tracks are the result of doing whatever was necessary to put this release on DVD5 instead of DVD9 media. It could well be that a decision was made to do this release as cheaply as possible and the video and audio processing done resulted in it all fitting on DVD5. Either way, it certainly does not do this movie justice nor does it endear Dragon Dynasty to its customer base. DVD9 media is ubiquitous in DVDs today. It's capacity allows far better treatment. Greater detail and far fewer artifacts that have been accomplished with much more challenging film sources than this one.
5) The extras are lack-luster. None of them are bad. The ones from John Woo are nice. The absence of other significant film critics and commentaries on the extras disc, and the total absence of a very knowledgeable commentary on the main movie disc is highly disappointing. It was nice to have a short one about the cinema shoot locations not mentioned on the box. For a movie of this importance, absent from the US market for so long, at least a substantial commentary track from an expert such as Bey Logan should have been done. The trailers were a reasonable selection of John Woo movies, but the selection seemed a little opportunisitic. It was nice to see a trailer for A Better Tomorrow. A good release of that one by Dragon Dynasty would be outstanding.
6) For me, I'm ambivalent that I acquired this particular release. I'm seriously disappointed with its quality. If A Better Tomorrow were released with this quality, I would be very ambivalent towards it too. I'm sure it would not be very well received by North American Asian cinema customer base.
7) This release was a golden opportunity for Dragon Dynasty to hit a solid game-winning grand-slam home run. It could have created a brand customer base that would have returned for a lot more releases. Instead, we got, at best, a disappointing attempted single that was thrown out out at 1st. I'll be watching for a much better release from some company in the future.
8) Dragon Dynasty: this is an opportunity to re-think the Asian cinema market and customer base in the US. Outstanding movies presented and treated well, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, and other action movies sell well. Some win Academy awards. There is always an opportunity to re-release this in the near future with a lot better treatment and better extras. Taking it sometime might be well advised. Whoever releases this with stellar treatment and extras will do very well. It's fans are still waiting.