If John Wick were a middle-aged single mom whose teenage daughter was about to come out as a lesbian, than she would be something like Gil Boksoon, the bone-crushing, throat-slashing, but otherwise fragile heroine of Korean director Byun Sung-hyun’s new action thriller, which premiered out of competition at the Berlinale.
Cheekily titled Kill Boksoon, the Netflix original takes cues both from Tarantino and the Wick franchise, with highly kinetic fight scenes where computer-generated blood fills the air like raindrops, and a plot revolving around corporatized assassins who inevitably turn on each other until there’s only one man — or woman — left standing.
The Bottom Line
The film also has an emotional undercurrent, albeit a rather familiar and facile one, as Boksoon copes with her daughter’s growing pains while she slays, slays and slays. At well over two hours it’s way too long and heads more or less where you think it will, but it’s fun to watch Byun and Jeon deliver the goods both viscerally and, at times, movingly.
Oscillating between hyper-stylized combat scenes employing slow-motion, CGI, tons of camera tricks and some impressive fight choreography, and more staid moments where Boksoon (Jeon Do-yeon) tries and mostly fails to connect with the teenaged Jae-young (Kim Si-A), Kill Boksoon maintains an upbeat and slightly offbeat tone where murdering and mothering go hand in hand.
Through multiple flashbacks, we learn how Boksoon became the highest rated contractor in the deadly MK enterprise, which is ruled over by a pair of siblings — the chairman Cha Min-kyu (Sul Kyung-gu) and the director Cha Min-herr (Esom) — who have made a fortune by turning killing into a strictly organized global business.
Such a scenario is nothing new for John Wick fans, even if Byun, who also wrote the script, applies a few welcome twists, including a band of fellow assassins that Boksoon hangs out with in a rundown greasy spoon restaurant on the outskirts of Seoul. That location becomes the setting for the film’s most memorable action sequence, which has the gang using everything from beer bottles to chopsticks to a pan of hot cooking oil to take each other out.
The rest of the story involves daughter Jae-young’s troubles at her elite private school, where a romance with another female student risks becoming public knowledge. Boksoon has to deal with the fallout while trying to conceal her true profession, which creates some suspense between them as they attempt to reach an understanding — never an easy task between any parent and teen.
Byun takes his time getting to the big third-act showdown, which overstays its welcome despite a few late surprises and plenty of martial arts mayhem. There really seems to be no reason — beyond the fact that running times don’t seem to matter for Netflix — why Kill Boksoon lasts for two-and-a-quarter hours. But then again, John Wick: Chapter 4, which is out next month, clocks in at a hulking 169 minutes, so maybe supercharged action flicks have become our equivalent of the sword-and-sandal epics of yesteryear, for better or worse.
Jeon, who fans know from excellent arthouse movies like Secret Sunshine and The Housemaid, is impeccable in a role that asks her to kick lots of butt while showing a fair amount of vulnerability — both as a mother with a child on the verge of a teenage meltdown and a woman in her forties trying to stay afloat in a (literally) cutthroat corporate environment. Byun smartly builds the film around Jeon and she never fails to deliver, whether her character is cutting a guy up or trying to cut to her daughter’s heart.
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