A Film a Week - The Killer / Deo killeo: Jugeodo doeneun ai

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

Choi Jae-hoon is positioning himself as one of the new hopes of the action-based Korean cinema. His track record consists of 3 features in as many years and as many genres. He gained some international attention with the historical spectacle The Swordsman (2020), and the horror-thriller The Hypnosis ensued the following year. His third film is a straight-up action thriller The Killer (2022) based on a somewhat popular web-novel The Kid Deserves to Die written by Bang Jin-ho. After the premiere at last year’s Udine Far East Film Festival and a tour of genre-friendly film festivals, such as Fantasia, it has landed on the streaming/video market.

The story revolves around Bang-ui (Jang Hyuk who already worked with the helmer on his debut feature), a semi-retired mob assassin willing to start a new life with his wife Hyeon-soo (Lee Chae-young) making money in the real estate sector. However, she plans a holiday with her best friend and the integral part of the plan is that Bang-ui has to “babysit” the friend’s daughter Yoon-yi (Lee Seo-young), a teenage girl with a talent to get in trouble. One thing leads to another, the girl gets in trouble and has to be saved (repeatedly) by the former hitman who, in process, discovers a wider conspiracy – a teenage prostitution ring that involves some people on the high places.

Once we manage to suspend our disbelief regarding the whole arrangement in which a mafia hitman (and, more generally, a middle-aged man) has to take care of a troublesome teenage girl he sees for the first time out of favour to his wife’s friend, we are in for an interesting, rollercoaster-type of ride. The script serves us with a plot that might seem convoluted and frivolous, but its function is to basically propel the action from one choreographed action sequence to another.

Those fights and shoot-outs are refreshing in their “creativity”, especially when it comes to elaborately brutal ways to kill an expendable “NPC” baddie. The fact that the only one capable of properly hurting our protagonist gets three fight encounters with him is actually quite a clever move that adds a layer of video-game “reality” to the film.  Another refreshing thing is the complete lack of care for the postulates of political correctness shown by the creative team: the villainesses of the film are as venomous as the villains (if not even more), but expressing themselves in a more scheming and covert way.

Choi’s directing is quite sure-handed in the way the standard and not-so-standard elements are combined. Acting-wise, Jang Hyuk is a convincing and compelling protagonist with a strong presence and a good sense of timing when to switch the acting “modes”, while the uneasy alliance-type of chemistry he shares with Lee Seo-young is believable enough for an action-packed movie that cares more about the set-pieces than the human drama. On the technical level, the choreography of the action sequence is complemented with the choreography of the otherwise slick cinematography of Lee Yong-gab, while the editor Kim Man-geun controls the pace with his precise cutting and the Jung Hyun-soo’s somewhat omnipresent, yet genre-diversified score (varying from ambiental and electronic pulsating to hard/symphonic rock and heavy metal tunes) manages to touch the right emotional chord in each switch.

Finally, the reception of The Killer varies a lot of the expectations the viewer brings to watching it. An exquisite piece of cinema it is not in any case, but it is a fun, intense, lean and occasionally mean action flick that works equally well on the big and the small screen.

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