Posted: 09/09/2003

 

Killer [Dao Shou]

(2000)

by Del Harvey



This DVD is available for purchase at HKFlix.com.


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Jordan Chan (the Young and Dangerous series, Skyline Cruisers, Big Bullet) is fast becoming one of my favorite Asian actors. In this action drama Chan plays Tung, ersatz leader of a group of triad hitmen who have attained a certain status as blade-wielding killers. Their situation becomes endangered when their tenuous place in the food chain shifts subtly and their very lives are threatened by a rival gang. The unkindest cut of all comes from their backer (Ken Tsang Kong), who is caught and forced to betray them in exchange for his freedom. When they are forced to kill an innocent man, things really begin to fall apart.

In spite of the straightforward plotline, the film still manages to work. Director Billy Chung does his best to camouflage the shortcomings and succeeds by focusing in on the character’s stories and enriching the basic premise so that we come away with at very least some better understanding of these people and their situation. Killer’s genre conventions eventually lead it down the path of the typical Hong Kong triad action drama, yet there remains some top notch cinematography and superb characterizations by Jordan Chan and his partner’s wife, as portrayed by Yoyo Mung. The popular Simon Lui’s off the wall character is a pleasant change and not only adds a light touch but still manages to keep his character compelling.

The main conflict is this: As our four main characters—Brothers Tung (Chan), Po (Lui), Mantis (Cheng) and Ho (Wong)—prepare to move into more legitimate businesses and investments, they must balance their work as contract killers with their new lifestyles. Or try to. When a gambler named Crazy Lai has run up too many debts to merit staying alive, the killers’ boss wants his murder to make the headlines. Only they make a mistake. The killing makes front page news, but they’ve hit the wrong man. They must now complete the task swiftly, as the target will undoubtedly be protected.

At the same time, hotheaded nightclub owner Po has had to eject rival triad boss Snake Skin and his gang from his bar in order to keep his liquor license. Offended, a rivalry erupts. To make things worse, Mantis is caught sleeping with the girlfriend of Snake Skin’s right-hand man, Brother Fai, who is a nasty piece of work. Enraged over this, Fai orders his thugs to rape his girl and then taunts Mantis, ordering his men to beat him. Fortunately, Po and Ho show up, armed. Po orders an apology to the girl and then uses the gun to sodomize Fai as payback. The suggestion here is that Fai’s actions spurred Po over the top. Now our characters are in real trouble, and must fight rivals and survive a dangerous mission in order to stay alive. There is one more bit of treachery, but that is best saved for the viewer to see.

I found Killer to be an engrossing and enjoyable film, in spite of the slow build-up. It is certainly a fine example of Jordan Chan’s acting at its subdued best. And as another entry in the triad crime drama genre, it ranks equal to most of the better films. I recommend Killer highly.

Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly, a devout Chicago Bears fan, loves Grant Park in any season, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.



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