The film opens with a campy scene of a Yakuza member waking up on a bridge construction site beside train tracks and a woman in a nurse’s outfit is waiting for him. The woman is Gil Boksoon, a lethal assassin and the Yakuza member is her target. There is a tongue-in-cheek bit of dialogue that takes its time but helps give us the feel and tone of this movie – it’s fun, irreverent, and hard-hitting. The action sequence that follows is exciting and thrilling, especially when it takes the camera angle from across the train tracks and as a train passes by, the fight scene appears like a slideshow, captured in between the train windows. We see Gil Boksoon’s competence and the Yakuza member’s skill and it’s a fantastic watch. It prepares us for what is to come.
Because while the movie is about a lethal assassin, who may be past her prime, she is also a single mother of a teenage girl and she has to juggle both in order to live. There’s a line in the movie Kill Boksoon that really summarizes this incredible film: “Killing people is easier than raising a kid.” It’s the whole foundation of this movie and betrays the sheer duality of this story. On one hand, it’s a slick, glossy action and suspense movie about an assassin but it is also, on equal measure, an interesting family drama about a mother and her teenage daughter who cannot connect with each other because of the secrets that they keep.
At the center of all of this is Gil Boksoon, played by Jeon Do-yeon. Jeon Do-yeon is magnificent in the role. You can see it in her eyes and her gait: she loves being good at her job, she loves being admired by other assassins. It’s the exact opposite of how she is when her daughter is around. She’s insecure, unsure of herself. The contrast is so striking but very believable.
Jeon Do-yeon manages a balancing act of the two tonal shifts of the movie; at one end, it’s a campy assassin movie, with hard-hitting fight choreography and lots of blood and gore but at the same time, it is a family drama. Interestingly enough, there is nothing corny about Kill Boksoon – her relationships with the people around her are practical; she’s not a humble, quiet killer; she enjoys her work and she knows what she is doing is bad as we hear in one of her killer lines as she says, “We know we are going to hell. That’s why we don’t pray.” – and it is in that acceptance, that the movie winks and nods to the audience that tells us to not take it too seriously and that we can still root for her if we want to. She is human and she has fully accepted her choices in life, as horrible as those choices may be.
There is a world here not unlike John Wick and it doesn’t go too deep that it overshadows the heart and soul of the film but it is real enough to make the world not feel so empty or fabricated. That balance allows the movie to play out in two completely different tones – the action thriller and the family drama – both working hand-in-hand to enhance and amplify the other. It is Boksoon’s insecurity about being a mother that is highlighted in comparison to how great she is as a killer, that comparison in inextricably linked, but it is in her learnings from being a mother that she finds herself able to navigate the messy world of her underworld profession, which turns difficult as she reaches the end of her contract.
There is masterful direction here by Byun Sung-hyun, who is unafraid to do jump cuts into the next scene or shift to flashbacks, and other jarring editing techniques and camera angles just to not engage in the peripherals – just like its main character, this movie means business. But despite its technical flourishes, the movie never strays too far from its beating heart.
Coupled with an amazing ensemble backing Jeon Do-yeon, including a standout Koo Gyo-hwan, another assassin with a personal relation to Gil Boksoon, and Kim Si-a, who plays the teenage daughter, Jae-young, ‘Kill Boksoon’ is a really engaging movie that surprised in every turn. It never lingers in the sentimentality and goes straight for the jugular.
Kill Boksoon starts streaming on Netflix this March 31.