1990 saw the release of two competing – and loose – adaptations of Kazuo Koike’s manga Crying Freeman, which had ended its serialized run two years earlier in Japan. Clarence Fok’s Dragon from Russia, a cartoonish mess with a terribly miscast Sam Hui in the title-role, came out three months after Philip Ko’s Killer’s Romance but nevertheless won the box-office battle, grossing more than three times as much as Ko’s film. But Killer’s Romance is the superior film. In it, Simon Yam plays Nidaime, the son of a Japanese mobster who’s just been murdered by Chinese rivals (including Philip Ko, Lau Siu Ming and Jason Pai Piao). He rushes to London to get his revenge, but as he dispatching one of his targets, a young Chinese expatriate (Joey Wong) out to take photos witnesses him in the act. Now Nidaime must get rid of this loose end, but instead the killer and the witness fall in love. But soon it appears the killer has been double-crossed by his own side.
London is an unusual location for a Hong Kong thriller of the early nineties, which immediately makes Killer’s Romance stand out among the abundant production of the time. The plot is simple, the characters are very thinly-drawn (except maybe for Chan Fung Chi, quite good as conflicted enforcer with a soft spot for Nidaime), but the pace is brisk, and Philip Ko directs with a good sense of understated style, and peppers his film with short but enjoyable – often housebound – shootouts, often scored to an infectious faux-baroque soundtrack (think ‘Vivaldi-with-a-drum-kit’, a phrase we borrow from esteemed filmmusic critic James Southall), as well as a terrific final swordfight. Still, despite the title there’s not much of a romance here, as Yam and Wong share absolutely no chemistry; they look like estranged siblings rather than star-crossed lovers. This creates a void where the film’s heart should have been. Indeed, Joey Wong is underused throughout (while Carman Lee, as her friend, barely registers), a doe-eyed victim with almost no character traits. Though not much better-defined as a character, Simon Yam is so charismatic and cool it hurts, all unkempt-chic and smouldering stares.
Long Story Short: Good action, an unusual London setting and Simon Yam’s unimpeachable charisma make up for a mechanical story, thin characters, and a chemistry-free romance. ***