Great Moments in Synth: John Woo’s “The Killer”

A CRM exclusive feature! As a special tribute to our loyal Chaos Legion fan club, all this month we’ll be doing an in-depth rundown on the finest movie soundtracks ever to be made on synthesizers! That’s right, absolutely free of charge (for the moment, ahaha!), the experts here at CRM are willing to hook you up with your daily fix of endearing, melancholy, saccharine-sweet, moving keyboard-based music from films of days long since past! Where else can you get that kind of retro-coverage of the greatest of storytelling sound palettes?

A rhetorical question, since CRM is the best at whatever it chooses to do.


In 1988, John Woo followed up his debut film, A Better Tomorrow* with, The Killer, about a contract Triad-type hitman who questions the collateral social damage of his actions. The film is pretty famous and has since been remastered for DVD by the Criterion Collection. This, being from his early stuff, is high-profile B-movie quality, with nutty, off-the-wall, too-cool-for-school action scenes and mind-searing melancholic music.

Of particular import, given our theme of the month, are the opening and ending themes to the film (composed by a guy called Lowell Lo?). This stuff is almost as sad as life itself. The opening theme has a “windy-reed” meets synth strings and a kind of “crystal bell” thing going on. The music itself is simple enough, a bit over-the-top dramatic, but it works for the movie’s atmosphere. You know, Hong Kong, bright-lit city lights, subtropical jungles and contract killers. That’s what keyboards mean to me! Do they not to you?

The Killer – Opening Theme

The ending theme starts off with a harmonica riff and then fades into a nice, simple piece that uses bright, slightly percussive “dulcimer bell” keyboard patches to get the point across. I love those sounds (I use them a lot in my own music) because they always remind me of South-East Asia during the 1980s.

Oh, why is that so alluring? I was born there, silly!

The Killer — Closing Theme

Unfortunately, John Woo’s work after he left Hong Kong has been unquestionably stale. He did not make the transition into modern USA cinema as smoothly as, say… Ang Lee. Oh well.


* A Better Tomorrow is not to be confused with Better Luck Tomorrow, a cheesy Asian-American high-school drama which is possibly a more ugly, violent film. Ahahaha!


~ by chaosrexmachinae on September 19, 2008.

One Response to “Great Moments in Synth: John Woo’s “The Killer””

  1. […] music is fun, reminiscent of classic ’80s fare, like John Woo’s The Killer. It was composed by Richard Yuen, a Taiwanese (?) composer, who scores soundtracks and writes for […]

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