Hong Kong's preeminent director John Woo transforms genres from both the East and the West to create this explosive and masterful action film. Featuring Hong Kong's greatest star, Chow Yun-fat, as a killer with a conscience, the film is an exquisite dissection of morals in a corrupt society, highlighted with slow-motion sequences of brilliantly choreographed gun battles on the streets of Hong Kong.
This 1989 rouser is apocalyptic pulp--the bloodiest, showiest, most shamelessly sentimental specimen of Hong Kong's gangster melodramas. A torch singer named Jennie (Sally Yeh) is accidentally blinded during a slaying in a night club, and Chow Yun-fat's sad-eyed Jeff, a self-lacerating assassin, drags himself out of retirement to take on one last job--rubbing out a major mobster for major bucks--so he can pay for the singer's cornea transplant operation. But Jeff pauses to ferry a wounded child to the hospital during this final outing, and because of this a cop finally gets a good look at him: "He was seen on the job," snarls a saturnine Mr. Big, "and I want him wasted." Armies of thugs converge on the saintly slayer. Some of writer-director John Woo's flourishes are kitsch classics (doves flying upward in a candlelit church), while the action sequences are rapturous. "Life's cheap," a character opines. "It only takes one bullet," but in this case it actually takes about a dozen spewing bullet hits to kill anyone, as soulful triads in mirror shades and duster overcoats blaze away with high-tech weaponry. (A favorite trick involves grasping an enemy by the lapels, pulling him into a waltz embrace, and pumping several slugs into his duodenum.) Danny Lee, Chow's costar in City on Fire, is the intense, young officer who fixates on the killer's contradictory personality. --David Chute