Taking inspiration from Kill Bill (which its title winks to), Yor Forger from Spy x Family and, most conspicuously, the plot of Keanu Reeves’ stylishly violent saga John Wick – this Korean action flick is an exciting new entry into the cool contract killer subgenre. Directed by Byun Sung-hyun, Kill Boksoon stars award-winning arthouse actress Jeon Do-yeon (Secret Sunshine, Beasts Clawing at Straws) as Gil Boksoon, the top-rated hitwoman at Korea’s leading assassin agency, MK. Besides being a successful professional killer, she balances her job with an even more arduous struggle, raising a teenager as a single mom.
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Murdering is easy, but mothering is hard. We know this because the kinetic Netflix feature opens with Boksoon doing battle with a deadly yakuza on Seoul’s Dongho Bridge. He’s wielding a samurai sword, while she’s armed with an axe from Walmart. It’s a stunning sequence to start the film, giving you glimpses of the extravagant fight choreography to come, while establishing Boksoon’s extreme combat competence. Up till now, her biggest challenge has been connecting with her sullen daughter Jaeyoung (Kim Si-A), who is currently in trouble at school after being blackmailed by a student threatening to expose her lesbian relationship.
In contrast, Boksoon is highly respected in the assassin community – she’s well-liked by her fellow cutthroats who she hangs with at a dive joint, and she’s celebrated at her corporatised workplace run by the mysterious and cunning brother-sister duo of Cha Min-kyu (Sul Kyung-gu) and Cha Min-hee (Taxi Driver’s Esom). However, even her work life is upended after Boksoon refuses to complete a crucial mission (for reasons we won’t spoil). In retaliation for her failure, the hunter becomes the hunted when her former colleagues and friends target her for termination.
It’s a scenario that’s very familiar, especially for fans of the John Wick franchise – replete with spectacular stunt work, dynamically-shot action, immersion into the customs and hierarchies of this world’s shadowy murder-for-hire industry, and a cadre of sleekly-tailored assassins who are (literally and figuratively) dressed to kill. Boksoon’s career troubles drive the film’s most dazzling scenes, with a brutal and beautifully choreographed sequence in a Russian saloon being a particularly memorable highlight.
The biggest differentiating factor from John Wick is obviously the film’s family elements, which pump Kill Boksoon’s beating heart. Byun is careful to emphasise the narrative’s maternal dynamic just as much as its action ingredients. Boksoon’s fraught relationship with Jaeyoung provides resonant emotional layers to a flick that could have easily veered into all style and no substance. Thematically, the movie showcases the traits we inherit from our parents, through flashbacks to Boksoon’s own traumatic upbringing, and through present-day scenes of her daughter’s violent tendencies.
Yet despite its vicious visual flair and strong character work, Kill Boksoon does suffer from few noticeable flaws. Running at a padded 137 minutes, Kill Boksoon feels overlong and overstretched, especially given the film’s derivative nature. Anyone who’s familiar with the movie’s influences can see the story beats coming a mile away. Nevertheless, the best reason to stick around until its inventive third-act showdown, is Jeon’s consistently brilliant physical and emotive performance. Whether she’s dishing out martial arts madness or dealing with mundane teen angst – this leading lady always delivers.
While the film doesn’t necessarily offer anything new for fans of the genre, Kill Boksoon is still a tremendously fun action-thriller that more than makes up for its formulaic blemishes with an abundance of superb set-pieces, engaging domestic drama and offbeat wit.
- Director: Byun Sung-hyun
- Starring: Jeong Do-yeon, Sul Kyung-gu, Esom, Kim Si-a
- Release date: March 31 (Netflix)