'Kill Boksoon' Review: Action Thriller Has A Professional Killer Stuck In Toxic Work Environment
If you're looking for some bloody, highly dangerous assassin frenzy and you don't get enough of it in theatres, your daily dose will also be appearing on a streaming service. Writer-director Byun Sung-hyun's action thriller Kill Boksoon (길복순 in Korean) introduces viewers to Gil Bok-soon (Jeon Do-yeon), an infamous professional killer with a not-so-subtle name who's pondering whether to renew her contract with her employer before she becomes a target of theirs after a botched job. Leading the hunt for her is the company's CEO Cha Min-kyu (Sol Kyung-gu) and Bok-soon's colleague Han Hee-sung (Koo Kyo-hwan). Meanwhile, Bok-soon is also struggling to connect with her teenage daughter Jae-young (Kim Si-a) who doesn't know about her mom's line of work.
What Byun is actually juxtaposing is how Bok-soon appears as ruthless and fearless when doing her job which requires both cruelty and finesse, and yet how she's completely unarmed when her daughter gets in trouble for stabbing a boy at her school and is simultaneously figuring out her identity. Has Bok-soon's work weakened her motherly skills and if so, should she continue? These are all interesting threads but unfortunately Byun delivers more as a director than as a screenwriter, leaving scenes involving those threads without real flow and compelling dialogue for Jeon and Kim to work with. Jae-young and her peers are rather empty as characters, largely defined by stereotypes and superficial drama in their lives which results in a tonal whiplash whenever we return to that with Bok-soon.
Kill Boksoon is much more laser-focused when delving into an untrustworthy world of assassins. Hidden inside this action spectacle and doomed to be a victim of the algorithm is Cho Hyung-rae's heavenly cinematography which will surely be one of the year's great achievements. Quality of the light is astounding throughout, camera movement smoothly tracks fights—sometimes using (presumably) pre-programmed rigs—and every face, eye and set detail is captured with perfection. It also sets the stage for inventive and purely fun action scenes which show Byun's eye for the genre. Because the writing isn't as refined, you're repeatedly waiting for those scenes for long periods of time; luckily the choreography often rewards you.
Those waiting periods also exemplify that there's a great movie hidden somewhere in there, perhaps even by doing some cutting, rearranging and playing more to its strengths such as the action. But taking it as it is, you will be moderately entertained the few times when the film decides to go for the kill.
Smileys: Cinematography, stunt choreography
Frowneys: Story, screenplay, pacing
It's supposed to be a bar fight, not a bar massacre.