dir: Byun Sung-hyun
The main character in this flick is called Gil Bok-soon (ably played by Jeon Do-yeon). She is so good at her job as a professional killer that she has earned the nickname “Kill” Bok-soon, despite the fact that, eh, Kill isn’t a Korean word.
But we non-Koreans might get it. We might think “Hey, this Netflix flick has “Kill” in the title, like Kill Bill, or Kill Your Darlings, or To Kill a Mockingbird, I should watch it! At least until I get enough tips on how to kill mockingbirds.”
It would seem that this flick transpires in the same universe as the John Wick movies, in that there don’t really seem to be any cops around, and if they exist, they’re part of the “establishment” anyway. And this weird criminal underworld operates within a strict set of rules.
All assassinations in this world are controlled by MK Enterprises. The person at the top decides who is to be killed, by whom, and how. The “work” is then allocated to the top employees of the various “companies”, as in, gangs of assassins, who then have to create a “show”.
These are the three rules – no children, no stealing work from other crews, and the job absolutely always has to be completed.
I don’t know how much of this is lost in translation, but maybe it’s lots of it. What’s clear is that Bok-soon, (I think?) a middle-aged single mother, is at the top of her hierarchy. She is A-list. She works for the MK of the MK Ent., being the slightly older Cha Min-kyu (Sol Kyung-gu), the guy who effectively rules the entire underworld.
She has been under contract for fifteen years, in which time she has never failed to kill her target. We are introduced to her attempting to assassinate a yakuza thug in a fair fight, but then demurring, and deciding it’s more important that she gets to the market in time to buy groceries.
Like in many movies about crime or killing people, especially movies about hitmen and the like, it is treated with all the depth and seriousness of killing minor characters in a computer game – it doesn’t matter, the person doing it is unaffected by it all. In effect, it’s a world peopled entirely by sociopaths.
But…Bok-soon is a mum. She has a surly teenage daughter, being Gil Jae-yeong (Kim Si-a), who barely communicates with her, and when she does, it’s just surly put downs or distancing comments. I don’t know what the Korean for “whatever” is, but it gets a tremendous workout in her dialogue.
Bok-soon struggles mightily not with her work, which she seems pretty great at, but with the fact that she finds parenting more difficult than contract killing. Surely her dedication and commitment in one area should crossover skills-wise into the other?
Perplexed as she is as to why regularly bathing in the blood of others doesn’t make her a better mum, we slowly find out that Jae-yeong’s surliness is a cover for a) feeling like her mum is too secretive and that she doesn’t really know her, or care about her, and b) worries that if her mum finds out that Jae-yeong is gay, she’ll flip out or be a fuckwit about it.
For me, a touching story about mother / daughter dynamics and the pitfalls thereof is of course not one that I can directly relate to, but, as a parent of a teenager, I can definitely relate to that feeling of being shut out, and the devastation that comes from feeling like you can’t get through to them at all. I guess those aspects of the story are well handled or well acted?
They stand in stark contrast with the other aspects of the flick, which are standard criminal underworld fare, shot through with occasional bursts of violence. Despite the flick being all about killers and such it’s not really that much of an action flick. There is a scene set in a strange pub in Arkhangelsk, Siberia, which is pretty impressive, whose purpose it is to show how much of a beast MK is, killing every single fucker in the place, and that’s probably as good as it gets. Despite the fact that we are told over and over again that she’s a marvel, Bok-soon / Jeon Do-yeon doesn’t really get to shine like the total badass we kept being told she is, most of the time. I mean, she is my age, and these old bones…
In a tragic / comic scene, her only friends in the world, also assassins, turn on her at their local hangout, and she has to kill every single one of them, but it doesn’t resonate that much because, honestly, she barely seems to care about anything.
Her antagonist in this flick happens to be MK’s sister, being Min-hee (Esom), who seems to hate Bok-soon for no reason that I could discern, other than that maybe she wants to fuck her brother(?)
Well, how does this manifest? Okay, so MK Enterprises is so confident in its untouchability that it even runs an assassin academy, training up the next generation of killers. During “classes”, Min-hee taunts Bok-soon into taking on, in a demo fight, their current star pupil, being Yeong-ji (Lee Yeon), because she hopes the younger student will humiliate Bok-soon.
It’s the best fight in the film, because nothing is at stake, no-one’s going to get their head cut off, but pride makes them fight like champs. The cooler, calmer older fighter easily and casually bests the younger, stronger more motivated opponent, using only a red marker. That’s got to hurt.
I originally wrote “texta”, but got discouraged when spellcheck redlined it. Is that just an Australian thing? Am I stuffing up the spelling of texta? Aren’t they called textas? Maybe that’s a brand name that we just absorbed as the name of the “thing” itself? Maybe younger people won’t even know what the fuck I’m talking about.
At least this younger person, Yeong-ji, idolises Bok-soon, and doesn’t want to kill her, and in fact will take on the entire MK Enterprise in order to protect her idol. Shame that Bok-soon doesn’t give a fuck about her.
This film posits a curious idea – that in this world, the world of the movie, you can only care about one thing, one person. Everyone else is pretty much superfluous. If you care about it too much, someone will have to fuck it up for you. Bok-soon is allowed to care about her daughter, but no-one and nothing else. MK also cares about only one person on the planet, and it’s not his sister, who clearly resents him for it, and feels like she has to fuck up the one thing he cares about.
I’ll magnanimously allow the viewer to find out for themselves as to what that one thing is, and whether he gets fucked up for it or not.
I derived some enjoyment from this film, as in, it’s well made, and well-acted, but I don’t consider it that great a flick. It also made me realise that I watch way too many films where it’s just killers, hitmen, assassins, and maybe they’re going to care about something or someone, or maybe they’re not? Maybe they’re just going to kill more people, and, honestly, I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
I also maybe feel like the daughter coming out scene wasn’t handled that well. Maybe I was disappointed in the dismissive bullshit the rude mother says back to her daughter, in that for all her complaints about not being able to talk honestly together, she ends up attacking her for it. The way she changes tack didn’t feel organic, as in, a bit forced, but maybe I’m not allowing for the fact that someone who’s killed hundreds of people would still be a conservative religious hypocrite about this kind of stuff.
Parents, even non-sociopathic ones, often fuck those conversations up with their kids, even with the best of intentions. And this parent, being a killer of killers, can’t see how her comfort with murder permanently makes her unrelatable to her daughter. It really comes down to the (very universal, very cliché) conflict that lots of parents face, being the distance their jobs create between them and their families, but the fact that without their jobs, their families don’t get to enjoy the benefits of being middle-class, and to express their sexual identity without repercussions, unlike for poor people.
And what’s more important than that?
Kill Bok-soon is okay, but it could have been better. Maybe with a hundred more murders?
6 times murder makes for muddy maternal motivations out of 10
“What is my mom like when she’s at work?”
- “She’s very good at what she does.” – a great performance review - Kill Boksoon