Coolie Killer (1982)
Directed by: Terry Tong
Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1983:
Ko Da Fu (Charlie Chin - My Lucky Stars) leads a team of Hong Kong assassins that are one night taken out one by one. All but Ko who flees to the countryside to find out who's behind this systematic elimination and to gain strength to fight back. Helping him gain his strength again is local girl Tong (Cecilia Yip) and chasing Ko is the long arm of the law, represented by cop Chung (Yueh Hua - The Imp, Come Drink With Me)...
From a difficult to watch (meaning tough, gritty, bloody, political) and see (meaning many times unavailable or available in watchable versions) time in this particular New Wave of filmmaking hitting Hong Kong in the 1980s, comes Terry Tong's debut and basically sole notable output. Produced by Dennis Yu (himself having done impressive, graphic work, most notable being The Imp and The Beasts), Coolie Killer deserves a place in the spotlight again for what it brought that others brought even more to the forefront. Unknown people like John Woo and Ringo Lam... Lacking much of a strong thematic or characters with heart, there's a stone cold stance and choice to the film that is refreshing in its simplicity. Almost get killed, take revenge, that's the script notes Charlie Chin probably made for himself. But with its combination of style, grit and blood, Terry Tong's flick goes important places.
Because here the underworld works independently, at night and in desolation because their needed goals will be obtainable even in the shadows. The small group of closely knit assassins that Charlie Chin leads gets a youth introduction and there's evidence of the old guard fading (via a symbolic competition over who can assemble a gun the fastest). Do you accept times of change, do you acknowledge it, do you adjust? Well, there's no time really before the high tech roller blade- and motorcycle assassins goes to work on the group and this brief intro that is quickly replaced by need for revenge in the coldest way possible is totally acceptable intentions for the film. Because basically what's being said here is that when the underworld fights, you better just let them fight it out so even with Yueh Hua's cop hot on the trail for Ko, ultimately he's never that integral to the tricks of the different gangster-sides. Even with Danny Lee appearing in a small role, yes indeed the cop world doesn't matter until possibly the very end. What is a driving force is instead the over stylized battle ground, bathed in green, rain, brawls and guns.
And it's where Coolie Killer reveals why it has an important place looking at the development of Hong Kong action cinema. With its plot bearing resemblance to later masterpieces such as The Killer but not at all featuring the style John Woo brought, with a suitable grit present in Charlie Chin's character, director Terry Tong collaborates superbly with action director Tony Leung to bring you tough brawls, powerful gunplay and many surprising, hard hitting ideas along the way. Especially of note is the whole assassin scenario on Ko's gang as well as a close quarter fight set in a bathroom where every bit of filmmaking works in Tong's favour. Ranging from cinematography to set- and production design. Great, more theme- and character based flicks would follow but Coolie Killer offers up a glimpse of why a story of nasty men fighting for own selfish revenge and not silly illusions of love is so pleasurable.
Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.95:1. This is in fact cropped from its original 2.35.1 aspect ratio but at no time does the framing seem overly tight. Print is filled with specks, grain, at times overly red tones, poor shadow detail but the whole affair comes off as suitably gritty too so the transfer is very much serviceable.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track works for what it is and doesn't present any obvious distractions. Other options are Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0, Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1
Frequent errors are present in the optional English subtitles but they're often easily comprehensible despite. Traditional and simplified subtitles are also included. Extras are limited to a trailer for Stars & Roses and the useless Mei Ah Databank (with the plot synopsis and cast & crew listing).
Completists might want to search out the Mei Ah vcd (cropped to 1.33:1) as it contains a different ending than is on the dvd. I prefer the vcd resolution as it works more in line with the select themes that ARE in the film. The one as shown on dvd is more sloppily handled and akin to what's quickly done to avoid censoring problems in Mainland China for instance. The vcd also has the advantage of featuring the original opening- and end credits. Mei Ah's dvd features a textless print with a sloppily inserted title card and a new end scroll.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson