The life of a real assassin is probably squalid, miserable and often soul-destroying. Well, destroying souls is bound to be soul-destroying if you think about it. In the movies however it’s a different tale. Contract killers can be happy, contented individuals with varied hobbies and busy social lives. What’s more they look super cool as they train those crosshairs on the latest unlucky recipient of their services.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their problems. Take the central character of this week’s action-packed release from Korea, The Villainess. After years of faithful slaughter, Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin) thinks she’s paid her dues and is pursuing a new career as an actress. Unfortunately her former employers have other ideas and it isn’t long before she’s sucked back into the high octane vortex of broken bones and blood-spattered camera lenses.
Hopefully she’ll get it all sorted and go back to treading the boards, as opposed to treading on peoples’ heads. In the meantime, while we wait to see how the whole deal pans out, let’s take a look at the lifestyles of other movie assassins and see how following the path of a paid snuff-meister impacted on them…
An unconventional example of an ardent exterminator was Ghost Dog, the enigmatically-named title character of Jim Jarmusch‘s 1999 philosophical kill-fest Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai. Forest Whitaker played the quiet assassin, who bumped off undesirables for the Mob. And if the Mob wanted them gone, you knew they were really undesirable.
Whitaker lived a disciplined existence on an urban rooftop, where he read the teachings of Hagakure whilst nurturing flocks of pigeons. Yes, Ghost Dog would whack his targets with ease yet also displayed a compassionate nature regarding our feathery friends. Despite his destructive occupation he remained a soulful individual, never happier than when practicing his moves and trying not to stand in bird poop.
Look at these two guys about town, having a whale of a time with their snappy suits and casual demeanour. You might not know it, but this is Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, trained assassins who worked for one of the most dastardly criminal masterminds the world has ever known. In fact you could say the world was not enough for them! (Hang on, wrong film. Never mind…)
They gave Sean Connery a double helping of bother in 1971 Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever, directed by Guy Hamilton. On the payroll of pussy-tickling short arse Blofeld, their methods of despatch were varied, from posing as room service stewards to dropping scorpions down your back when you least expected it. 007 managed to outsmart the deadly duo but it was a shame of sorts to see them perish. Wherever they went, their friendship and enthusiasm was plain to see.
Hired killers in the flicks are frequently style icons as well as cold-blooded mercenaries. Arguably the best-known of these is Anne Parillaud, who played a teenage troublemaker turned death dealer in a cocktail dress in Luc Besson‘s La Femme Nikita from 1990. It seemed a life in jail was on the cards for her following a the murder of a cop. She was spared by the government on one condition – she became a brilliant assassin!
Luckily for her she showed quite a talent for the role, displaying a real “can do” attitude. Of course the honeymoon period of heavy slaying couldn’t last and she found herself in a sticky situation when a hit went screwy. Enter Jean Reno‘s “Victor the Cleaner”, a solitary figure who spent his days dissolving problem corpses with acid. Nikita escaped her captors but Besson had other plans for Reno as we will later discover…
KEEPING IN TOUCH
Sometimes being an expert assassin with an endless stream of sarcastic dialogue is not enough. This was the valuable life lesson learned by John Cusack‘s Martin Blank as he swapped slaughterhouse rules for school ones, attending his classmates’ reunion in George Armitage‘s 1997 black comedy Grosse Pointe Blank. It all seemed to be going well for Martin, till Dan Aykroyd‘s corporate killbot took the fun out of his work.
Heading back to his hometown he soon ran into old flame Minnie Driver and realized day to day didn’t necessarily mean erasing humans for a large fee. Helped by understanding secretary Marcella (Joan Cusack) and psychiatrist Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin), he came to understand the upside of regular life. It goes to show that no matter how many people you rub out, there’s always time to change your ways.
Having played the part of a meticulous murderer to perfection in Luc Besson‘s Nikita, Jean Reno soon received another call from the French director. This time round he wanted him to take the role of… um, an assassin. However this character was going to have less ice in his veins and more warmth in his heart. Léon (from 1994) not only had a passion for plant life, taking care of a flower between jobs: he possessed a knack for looking after wayward children to boot.
Orphaned teen Mathilda (Natalie Portman) was adopted by the reserved rifle-wielder, who revealed his sweet side by training her as his brutal apprentice. Carnage ensued, yet a touching relationship flourished between the pair, leading to genuine affection when the killer of Mathilda’s family – deranged policeman Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman) – drew near, determined to silence her forever. Sadly Léon didn’t get to see Portman’s protégé grow up, though I’m sure he’s up there looking down on her as she empties her gun chamber into a man’s skull. Either that or she went into estate agency or something. I know which profession I’d pick…!
The Villainess is out Friday. Watch the killer trailer below: