The Killer review – super-violent South Korean thriller with well-coiffed assassin

A retired mercenary must free a kidnapped teen in this lurid and drum-tight thriller

Charismatic star Jang Hyuk plays Bang Ui-gang, a retired mercenary compelled to shoot, maim, slice and dice an assortment of adversaries in this extremely violent action thriller. At all times, Ui-gang also manages to keep his hair immaculately coiffed in a floppy K-pop-by-way-of-1990s-Hugh-Grant style. He’s so darn cool that at one point he arrives at one of the film’s many dens of iniquity with a large coffee in one hand and a gun in the other, and shoots his adversaries stone dead between dainty sips.

This would all seem faintly ridiculous if it weren’t that director Choi Jae-hoon (who recently made The Swordsman, also with Jang) and screenwriter Nam Ji-Woong have injected some biting social critique among all the bloody malarky – notably through the way the story reveals that the sex trafficking ring at the heart of the evildoing is condoned and exploited by people at the highest levels of authority.

Before all that kicks off, the film’s opening seems as if it’s setting up a comedy. Ui-gang, rich from years of killing for hire, is now happily married and spends his time researching tax law on the couch. But his wife, Hyeon-soo (Lee Chae-young) wants to go on holiday with a female friend who has no one to look after her 17-year-old daughter Kim Yoon-ji (Lee Seo-young), so Hyeon-soo gets Ui-gang to babysit. Wouldn’t you know it, on the very first night she gets kidnapped by traffickers and only just manages to call for help. Ui-gang has no choice but to retrieve the errant youngster, who keeps managing to get recaptured, which prompts ever more fight scenes.

If the plot is a little sketchy, the action, conversely, is drum tight. Ui-gang fights off baddies in elevators, corridors, stairwells and open spaces, and at one point contrives to use an assortment of sex toys in a love hotel to escape through a window several stories up, using a swiftly crafted pulley of bondage ropes and a bad guy for ballast. Meanwhile, the lighting and sets offer a searing palette of magenta and cobalt blue, as if the story weren’t already lurid enough.

• The Killer is on digital platforms from 27 March.


Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

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