Hong Kong director John Woo’s 1989 film, The Killer, was heavily influenced by Le Samouraï’s plot, the bar’s female pianist being replaced by a singer. Chow Yun-fat’s character Jeffrey Chow (international character name for Ah Jong) was obviously inspired by Alain Delon’s Jef. The inspiration, or homage, is confirmed by the similarity in the character names. Woo acknowledged his influences by writing a short essay on Le Samouraï and Melville’s techniques for the film’s Criterion Collection DVD release.
The caged bird is a bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)
Haunting a nocturnal landscape of bars, bridges and backstreet garages, Jeff Costello drifts through nocturnal landscapes shot in steely blues and greys, giving the impression that Jean-Pierre Melville’s protagonist is a ghost in his own movie Le Samouraï.
What is a samurai? When he wears a fedora as crisp as glass and a pale trench coat that could have been sculpted by Brancusi? He is doomed. He is an icon out of his time. He is a hired killer, yet he is a last emblem of honor in a shabby world of compromise. He is a man who believes in tiny adjustments to the perfect shadow cast by the brim of his hat, who exults in the flatness with which he can utter a line, and who aspires to the last lovely funeral of brushes on a drummer’s cymbal. His essence is in timing, gesture, and glance.
Le Samouraï is as efficient a piece of cinema as it is darkly romantic. Melville shows us his lone killer’s methodical precision with great flair, and the police manhunt through the Métro is as good an action sequence as any.
The film opens with a purported line from the Book of Bushido – the source of the Japanese warrior class’s knowledge: ‘There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai, unless perhaps it be that of the tiger in the jungle.’ After the film was shown in Japan, Melville admitted he wrote the quotation himself. But Delon expresses this perfectly with his deliberately impassive performance.