A Few Things I Need from John Woo’s The Killer Remake with Lupita Nyong’o

In the future, there will come a moment when we decide that there are Enough Actors, and no further actors will be allowed to exist. At that time, writing original screenplays will finally be punishable by death. In the interest of fairness, everything will be decided by the Great Film Maker, a huge Price Is Right style wheel that arbitrarily pairs existing actors with existing movies. Nothing will be too niche. Nothing will need to be justified. You won’t even bat an eyelash at something as unexpected as, oh … I dunno, fuckin’… Lupita Nyong’o … starring in a remake of John Woo’s The Killer.

Sorry, hold on, I’m getting word that that is exactly what is happening. And that John Woo himself is directing the remake of his own movie? These are wild times, gang, but I have to say, I am deeply and fully down. The Killer is certified vintage Woo, a 1989 Hong Kong action flick bursting with energy and style. And as with many of Woo’s early classics, it is anchored by a charismatic performance from Chow Yun-fat.

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The old killer (Chow Yun-fat) / The new killer (Lupita Nyong’o)

If someone asked me to guess who had been cast in the Chow Yun-fat role, it would take me a while before I got to Lupita Nyong’o. She’s been at the top of everybody’s dream cast lists for a few years now, but she doesn’t immediately spring to mind when I think ‘mob contract killer with a heart of gold.’ But that’s why it’s so great! One of the main ways to keep the infinite stream of remakes fresh is to creatively cast. No one should doubt the Oscar winner’s acting chops, but maybe more importantly, she’s got the same classic, cinematic screen presence that Chow Yun-fat does.

The Killer is the story of a hitman, Ah Jong (Chow Yun-fat), and the cop who pursues him, Inspector Li (Danny Lee). In a nightclub shootout, the hitman accidentally blinds a singer named Jenny (Sally Yeh) who was caught in the crossfire. He feels responsible for her impairment, and after he saves her from some muggers, they begin to fall in love (without her knowing that he’s the one who blinded her). When they try to leave his assassin life behind and move to America to save Jenny’s eyes, the Triads put out a hit on him. After several tense run-ins between Ah Jong and Inspector Li, the two team up to take down the Triads who want Ah Jong dead.

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Ah Jong and Inspector Li (Danny Lee) shoot their way out.

As unexpected as this remake news may seem, the truth is that Hollywood has been trying to remake The Killer basically since it first came out. An early 1990s version was going to star Richard Gere and Denzel Washington in the primary roles, but was stalled for a number of reasons – one of which was apparently that producers feared the camaraderie between the two main characters would come across as homoerotic to American viewers. God forbid. Some Hollywood dipshit’s literal “no homo” may have cost us a scene where Denzel calls Richard Gere “Shrimp Head.”

My main concern is this: a large part of the legacy of Woo’s career-making Heroic Bloodshed movies is how bonkers they are. I don’t want Woo to try and remake The Killer shot-for-shot. But my hope in this case is the same as it often is when it comes to remakes: a remixing of the classic elements to keep things unpredictable while managing to capture the tone and magic of the original.

For the purposes of rigorous analysis and accurate research, I rewatched The Killer last night. Here are some things I’ll be looking for in the remake:

  1. Casting Inspector Li
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Inspector Li and Ah Jong’s delicate dance.

This movie lives and dies on the chemistry between the assassin and the detective. So as promising as Nyong’o’s casting is, it’ll mostly be for naught if she doesn’t have a formidable scene partner to be pointing a gun at the whole movie. Some humble suggestions for the earnest cop who doesn’t play by the rules: Taraji P. Henson, Constance Wu, Claire Foy, Armie Hammer.

  1. Li’s Striped Suit

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Inspector Li spends most of the movie running around in an amazing white striped suit jacket and pants. Listen, I’m only talking about the important details here. Can I at least get one scene with this? (Please refer to the above casting suggestions and tell me they wouldn’t absolutely kill this look.)

  1. Disguises

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Contributing to the fun cheesiness factor of the original are the two disguises that Ah Jong dons throughout. While I’m not sure I can see Lupita Nyong’o in a salt and pepper wig and mustache, I feel confident that the powers that be can arrange something suitable.

  1. The Tea Scene/Nicknames

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I know, I know, requesting exact remakes of existing scenes is not the right way to go about this. All I’m saying is: if they do include a scene straight from the original, may it be the tea scene. Jenny, blinded by Ah Jong’s gunfire earlier in the movie, insists on getting tea for Ah Jong and his friend. His “friend” is really Inspector Li, and the two men spend the entire scene pointing pistols at each other, while talking as if they’re old friends so as to not frighten Jenny. She hugs Ah Jong, hands them tea, and generally makes it difficult for them to not blow their cover, switching their gun hands and shifting positions, while never unlocking their tense eye contact.

This one’s a twofer, also. In the course of their absurdly casual smalltalk-at-gunpoint, they make up nicknames for each other, trying to further convince Jenny that they’re simply old friends, not people pointing guns at each other’s skulls. This is partially a translation thing, but the nicknames Shrimp Head and Small B are pretty endearing, and most importantly, they come back later when the two actually do decide to team up.

  1. Candles and Doves

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You may very well have never watched this movie, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen it referenced somewhere. The most iconic scene, the final shootout, takes place in a small church lit by hundreds of candles, with white doves fluttering around the carnage. Woo’s style is often described as “balletic,” and here is where that really comes to the foreground. Ah Jong and Li spin, flip, and shoot, alternating between lightning-fast choreography and the dramatic slow motion that Woo is famous for. The all-time great cinematic image of the duo walking toward the camera, a single dove flying behind them, is the very essence of The Killer. It’ll be up to Woo to try and equal that shot.

In fact, this movie’s use of movement is so poetic, that it seems like a crime to only include still images. Here is a gif. (by tumblr user nojillnolife)

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I feel very confident that a remake of The Killer, even by Woo himself, can only pale in comparison to the original. Personally, I think I’d prefer if Woo were just directing a new film starring Nyong’o that had no connection to The Killer. But either way, with the recent popularity of the very Woo-inspired John Wick, I’m excited for the legend himself to re-enter the fray.

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