Shot in Hong Kong.
Shown at the Cannes Film Festival May 12, 1989.
Director John Woo edited several sequences in "The Killer" himself, including the dragon-boat chase.
There is a 130 minute version of "The Killer" available on video in Taiwan. Fox Lorber was not offered the domestic video rights to this longer version, and it is only available in the United States through Asian mail-order services.
John Woo was born in Canton, China in 1946, but by 1950, he and his family had already moved to Hong Kong. While still a young man, Woo started making short, mostly experimental, films in 16mm and 8mm; he has described these early efforts as primarily "existential love stories". In 1969, Woo, having bypassed film school for financial reasons, began working at the Cathay Film Company in Hong Kong as a script supervisor. At the studio, he met his first mentor, martial arts specialist Zhang Cheh, who he worked for as an assistant director.
By 1973 Woo had his first directing credit (as co-director) on "The Young Dragons". Because of its excessive violence the film was eventually banned in Hong Kong, but it showed enough promise to get him a three year deal from Golden Harvest. Woo's initial work for the studio was a series of low budget kung fu movies, mostly shot in Korea. In 1975, while still the studio's youngest director, he made a Cantonese opera film ("Princess Chang Ping") that proved to be very successful financially, and he followed that up with several comedies. According to Woo, the 1977 comedy "Money Crazy" (aka "The Pilferer's Progress") made his reputation in the Hong Kong film industry; it was a runaway hit. During this prolific period of his career (17 films from 1973-1981), Woo gave several future Hong Kong stars their first acting roles, including Jackie Chan and Samo Hung (who started out as stuntmen for Woo), and comedian Michael Hui.
Woo left Golden Harvest in 1981 for the new studio Cinema City, and what he thought would be more creative freedom. Unfortunately, the studio only wanted him to make comedies, in hope of repeating his "Money Crazy" success. In what Woo describes as "one of the worst times of my life", he spent two years directing a pair of films in Taiwan that he is still unhappy with. When he returned to Hong Kong, his ties to Cinema City severed, Woo accepted a job at the Film Workshop -- an independent production company founded by his friend, producer/director Tsui Hark (another HK filmmaker given his start by Woo). The two collaborated on "A Better Tomorrow" (1986), with Hark producing and Woo writing and directing. This film was a resounding critical success and became the highest grossing picture in Hong Kong history.
Suddenly, Woo was Asia's top action director. And he followed the triumph of "A Better Tomorrow" with a slew of successful action films in the late '80s/early '90s: "The Killer" (1989; which made his reputation in the West), "Bullet in the Head" (1990), "Once a Thief" (1991), and "Hard-Boiled" (1992), most starring Hong Kong megastar Chow Yun-fat. Woo made his American directorial debut in 1993 with the Jean-Claude Van Damme action vehicle, "Hard Target".
John Woo on "The Killer":
"'The Killer' was my idea. Jean-Pierre Melville influenced me a lot, and I always wanted to make a film like 'Le Samourai' .... I also wanted to stress that justice is a universal value, shared by people who lead completely different lives. My killer is not very contemporary: he's a killer from several centuries ago, when they killed for a reason. (interview published in Sight and Sound, 5/1993; translated by Terence Chang)