THE KILLER - * * * - Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh; in Chinese, with English subtitles; rated R (violence, profanity); exclusively at the Cinema in Your Face! Theater.
WHO KILLED VINCENT CHIN? - * * * - Documentary; not rated (violence, profanity); matinees only Friday, Saturday and Sunday, exclusively at the Cinema in Your Face! Theater.Leave it to Cinema in Your Face! to book two films with Chinese connections on the same weekend. Both are quite good, both deal with violence and both played at the Sundance Film Festival a few years ago - but they could not be more disparate.
- "WHO KILLED VINCENT CHIN?" is a documentary whose title asks a rhetorical question since the killer is known.
This is no murder mystery; this film's roots go much deeper as it chronicles the events surrounding the death of Vincent Chin, a young Chinese-American who was beaten to death by an unemployed auto worker in Detroit during the summer of 1982.
Chin was 27 and celebrating the end of his bachelorhood in a topless bar with some friends. He got into a scuffle with 43-year-old Ron Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz.
Ebens apparently mistook Chin for Japanese and berated him, complaining that Japanese auto manufacturing had put Americans out of work.
A little later Ebens and Nitz cornered Chin outside a nearby fast-food restaurant and while Nitz held him, Ebens beat Chin to death with a baseball bat.
The justice system dragged its feet for years and eventually fined the two $3,700 and put them on three years probation. Needless to say, this caused an uproar in the Chinese community.
Would the case have been treated so lightly if Chin had been Caucasian? Or, for that matter, if Ebens and Nitz had been Chinese?
Filmmakers Christine Choy and Renee Tajima use cinema verite techniques to tell the story and interview all the principals, from those directly involved (including the killers), their families, witnesses, police - even the judge who dismissed the crime as not having actually been a "brutal murder."
Their use of comments from observers, along with newsreel footage, is most compelling, but it is Chin's mother, describing in detail her life in white America, who ultimately provides the most devastating imprint.
By the end of the film the question doesn't seem so rhetorical anymore.
Who Killed Vincent Chin?
Maybe we all need to accept some responsibility.
- "THE KILLER" is a fictional film, a chiller-diller thriller from Hong Kong that could have been made by Sam Peckinpah, loaded as it is with balletic violence and gore.
It's also romantic, sentimental and more than a little looney.
This wild yarn begins as a professional killer with a conscience (Asian superstar Chow Yun-Fat) guns down mobsters in a meeting and accidentally blinds a lounge singer (Sally Yeh) in the crossfire.
Stricken with remorse for his deed - blinding the young woman, not killing the gangsters - he vows to do one last hit. Then he will use his $1 million-plus fee to get her a cornea transplant.
Meanwhile, the cop on the case (Danny Lee) vows to get the killer - but, as you might expect, he discovers they aren't so different from each other.
"The Killer" is a wild extravaganza all the way, loaded with thrills and excitement, but it really comes alive when the two confront each other. As they hold guns on each other in the singer's apartment a strange mutual respect begins to grow, gradually developing into a tenuous friendship.
Ultimately, there is the bloodiest shootout since Peckinpah's "Wild Bunch" (with final moments that offer a darkly comic twist on the conclusion of "Duel in the Sun"). It's a good thing these guys have guns that hold about 10,000 bullets per clip.
But writer-director John Woo isn't just into blood bags. He fills the screen with memorable images - from doves in a pristine Christian church to a speedboat chase in the open sea. He builds suspense terrifically. And he's unabashed when it comes to obvious soap opera allusions to "Magnificent Obsession." (You almost expect the killer to become a surgeon for the blind woman he loves.)
Though "The Killer" is strictly for those with a high violence tolerance, it certainly shows up the difference between a well-made film and a piece of trash like "Out for Justice."
"The Killer" is the wildest ride since "Die Hard." (The first one.)
It's rated R, of course, for considerable violence, along with some profanity.