Monday, September 9, 2013

This Gun For Hire: Get Ready for BLUE RUIN with some Hitman Movies!

Hitman movies are one of my favorite genres. So to get you in the mood for Blue Ruin, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite films.

Adjust your suit so the body armor doesn't ruin the line, put on your shades and get ready to explore moral ambiguity and conflicted loyalties.

This Gun For Hire (1942) directed by Frank Tuttle.

Based on Graham Green's A Gun For Sale, This Gun For Hire stars Alan Ladd as Raven, a hired killer who fulfills a contract and then is betrayed by his employer William Gates (Laird Cregar), who tips the police off and who might be a spy. Raven flees the police while attempting to take revenge. Meanwhile, nightclub singer Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake, who headlined) is spying on Gates for the police. Inevitably, Raven and Graham end up on the road together.

Le Samouraï (1967) directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

Le Samouraï has profoundly influenced all subsequent hitman films, with its emphasis on style and the almost monastic discipline and control of hitman, Jef Costello, played with near arctic sang-froid by Alain Delon. Melville re-imagines the wandering ronin of films like Yojimbo and Sword of Doom with fedora and trenchcoat Noir into a smooth Parisian contract killer.

Alain Delon is only happy when it rains.

The Killer (1989) directed by John Woo

Chow Yun-Fat's Ah Jong/Jeff is a contract killer after Jean-Pierre Melville's own heart: handsome, beautifully dressed, and a homage to Le Samourai. But Ah Jong has a conscience. And Woo brings in the sensibilities of Shaw Bros. "heroic bloodshed / bloody brothers" to his film. After accidentally blinding a chanteuse, Jennie (Sally Yeh), during a restaurant hit. Ah Jong falls in love with her and takes one last contract to try to repair the damage he has done. Unfortunately, Danny Lee's Police Inspector Lee is on to Ah Jong, and is, in many ways a much stronger candidate for romantic interest. One of the things I love about this film is that you can track the moral position of the characters based on the evolving colors of their suits.

Chow Yun-Fat is even handsome crying tears of blood.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) directed by Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch's forays into genre are always intriguing. Forrest Whittaker plays the titular character, a man who attempts to live his life in accord with Yamamoto Tsunetomo's Hagakure, a book written in Tokugawa Japan dictating how a warrior and a man of honor should live. Of course, both Yamamoto and Ghost Dog lived in times of peace. And their created lives reflect nostalgia for a time when men could fight and die with honor. Ghost Dog reveals the deep appeal of living according to a code of righteous conduct, at the same time that the films demonstrates exactly how violence begets violence.

What tragedy could possibly stem from this?

Exiled / Fong Juk (2006) directed by Johnnie To

I have a theory that Ang Lee wants to make movies about anything that focus on things that are green (The Green Destiny sword, the Incredible Hulk, the green hills of England and Missouri) and that Johnnie To has a plans to make a in the style of each of his favorite directors. Exiled is To's Peckinpah Western set in Macau during its handover to China. Boss Fei (the incomparable Simon Yam) sends Blaze (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) and Fat (Lam Suet) to kill their old Triad brothers, Wo (Nick Cheung) for betraying him. Wo had fed but returned to raise his family in Macau. Meanwhile, Tai (Francis Ng) and Cat (Roy Cheung) want to save Mo's life. The film played TIFF in 2006 and reunites the cast of To's The Mission, which played at Midnight Madness in 1999.

I'm sure everything will work out just fine.

Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon (1977) directed by Yukeo Noda
Sonny Chiba travels to Hong Kong in this splendidly Seventies and unapologetically hyper-violent Hong Kong/Japan co-production. Chiba plays Duke Togo, a hitman created by the mangaka, Takeo Saito. American drug lords send Duke to Hong Kong to eliminate some competition. While there, he is pursued by Det. Dirk Chang Smith (Callan Leung) and gangsters who don't care to be taken out. Meanwhile, Chiba's real life protege Etsuko Shiomi (aka, Sue Shiomi) plays Lin Li, who is busily infiltrating the Hong Kong drug operation.

Director Noda, this is a masterful composition.

Naked Killer (1992) directed by Clarence Fok Yiu-leung

Naked Killer is a Category III film, which is sort of Hong Kong's version of an X-rated film. They have graphic violence and nudity, although about the same level of nudity and violence that a film like Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon has. Naked Killer stars Wong Jing's muse, Chingmy Yau as Kitty, a young woman chosen to be trained as an assassin by Sister Cindy (Wai Yiu) along with other lady assassins, Princess (Carrie Ng) and Princess' girlfriend, Baby (Madoka Sugawara). They are found out by Tinam, played by the King of Category III films, Simon Yam Tat-Wah. Tinam has a lot of issues, including vomiting when he tries to use his gun and also, in case that wasn't subtle enough, impotence. (Naked Killer also screened at Midnight Madness 1994).

The life of a lady asssassin.

Grosse Pointe Blank (1998) directed by George Armitage.

John Cusack's hitman Martin Blank has a lot of problems himself. He's just not enjoying his job like he was. The union is after him to join. And his ten-year school reunion coming up. He talks to his therapist Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin), who he has intimidated into listening to his problems. I love this film for lots of reasons. I love that Martin never really understands that his fundamental problem is that he's killing people and that scares people. And I especially love Joan Cusack as Martin Blank's administrative assistant, Marcella.

Martin makes sense of life and death in a very literal way.

No Country For Old Men (2007) directed by the Coen Bros.
No Country For Old Men is one of the most harrowing films I have ever seen. Llewellyn Moss finds a bag full of money and tries to keep it. Two hitmen try to get it back from him. The first, Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) is pleasant and reasonable. But Javier Bardem's disturbing Anton Chighur has turned himself into an implacable force of fate in a terrible and terrifying haircut.

So wrong. So very, very wrong.

So that was more than I meant to share and there's still so many more. Share yours in the comments!
BLUE RUIN Screening Times:
Monday, Sept 9th, 8:00 PM THE BLOOR HOT DOCS CINEMA
Wednesday, Sept 11th, 12:00 PM TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX 1

1 comment:

  1. Tremendous list, Carol. Off the top of my head I'm adding IN BRUGES, THE MATADOR and LA FEMME NIKITA. But you've already named three of my all time favorites (of any genre!) in GROSSE POINTE BLANK, GHOST DOG and LE SAMOURAI.