Against the World:  Assassins and Contract Killers

“To them, you’re only a killing machine.”  (to Michelle Lee/Reis, “The Other Side of the Sea”)

Although Pat Ha played a contract killer in “On The Run,” her character quickly evolved into an unlikely hero once forced into a fugitive role by renegade cops.  One of the earliest true assassin films (“Dreaming The Reality,” 1991) – still one of the best GWG titles – cast Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima as orphaned children raised as contract killers.  Their ambiguous and rather eerie bond is shattered by the familiar HK plot device of amnesia.  In a dissociative state, Moon Lee’s character stumbles into a normal life.  This permits one of the leading plot devices prominent in the majority of the female assassin movies – male “rescue” via romance of the attractive female assassin from the affections of another controlling woman.  Parallels – and contrasts – with the redemption of males in comparable plots may be noted.  Such relations are merely hinted at in “Dreaming,” but are blatant in “Naked Killer” (1992), “Beyond Hypothermia” (1996) and “Her Name Is Cat” (1998).  In each of these titles, characters played by Simon Yam, Lau Ching-wan and Michael Wong fall in love with female assassins.  A variant on this theme also briefly surfaces in “Cold War” (2000).

Pat Ha (On the Run) and Baby (Naked Killer)
Although superficially just a tragic romantic thread (the protagonists mostly die), there are a number of potentially problematic implications of this formula.  First, it might be possible to view the attractive female assassin – a professional loner – as somehow emblematic of female professional roles.  Second, sometimes depicting the characters’ mentors, bosses or partners as bisexual or lesbian is devaluing by potentially associating orientation with a criminal, antisocial role devoid of “feelings.”  In these films the female operatives are routinely admonished to not develop or attend to feelings (e.g., the Taiwanese thread in “Guardian Angel,” 1996), suggesting that emotions may either be thought of as somehow more “natural” for women or at odds with effective action.  What this might imply for males in comparable assassin roles is left unanswered.  Third, relationships with the men that superficially “save” them often spell the end of their careers.  Both female contract killers in the GWG classic “Lethal Panther” (1991) were brought down by their love for men – a treacherous boyfriend and brother, respectively.  Even Jade Leung’s fine performance in “Black Cat” (1991) was actually as a virtual zombie – revived with an implanted brain chip – completely under the control of Simon Yam’s character.  Consequently, her rebellion and independence are crushed early, while her emergent doomed love affair is simply permitted to play out as her controller remotely toys with her.  In reality, she’s only the shell of a person.
Anita Yuen (Taste of Killing and Romance), Michelle Reis (Black Morning Glory)
In effect, while masquerading as atypical, these films may actually affirm traditional roles.  When normal relations with men are depicted, these frequently involve people who are involved in catering or food service (e.g., “Dreaming The Reality,” “The Other Side of the Sea,” “Beyond Hypothermia”).  This device perhaps sharpens the contrast between the characters’ roles.  Furthermore, the death of a brother or male partner may also provoke a female assassin to acts of suicidal vengeance (e.g., Nakeki Fujimi in “Mission of Condor,” Mikie Ng Miu-yee in “Rock on Fire”).
Wu Chien-lien (Beyond Hypothermia) and Almen Wong (Her Name is Cat)
Other examples include the slick “A Taste of Killing and Romance” (1994) directed by Veronica Chan Ching-yee, and the unsatisfactory “Challenge” (1997).  In both of these films a female assassin (played by Anita Yuen Wing-yee and Yukari Oshima, respectively) become romantically involved with a male assassin.  Their paths cross professionally when each is contracted to perform a hit on their partner.  The couple dies in a bloody shootout in “A Taste of Killing and Romance” but is maimed and incapacitated in “Challenge.”  Nevertheless, both women are doomed by the relationship involvement, and “A Taste of Killing and Romance” additionally features Christine Ng Wing-mei as “Ice,” the controlling, unapproachable contractor.
Mikie Ng (Rock on Fire) and Josie Ho (Purple Storm)
Additional conventions appear to involve relations with children.  Characters who kill a child are doomed to die (Jacqueline Wu, “Beyond Hypothermia,” Kara Hui, “Roar Of The Vietnamese,” Agnes Aurelio, “The Big Score”).  Such acts transgress acceptable limits, placing their perpetrators beyond the pale.  In the superior, bleak tragedy “The Roar Of The Vietnamese,” (1991) Kara Hui’s refugee mother will kill another child, but dies trying to protect her own.  Pat Ha’s assassin in “On The Run” gradually thaws from her icy remoteness when protecting Yuen Biao’s child.
Jade Leung (Black Cat II) and Christie Chung (Cold War)