Kill Boksoon review – intense Korean assassin thriller with satisfying complexity

This fast-moving yarn about a woman balancing contract killing with raising a teenage daughter has flair and depth to spare

Like a lot of topline Korean films, this prestige action thriller is a little too long at 137 minutes, but it’s consistently entertaining throughout, and quite well-suited given the length to being viewed on a streaming platform. Viewing in chunks works quite well, especially since the dialogue zips by so quickly that if you don’t speak Korean you may need to rewind to read the subtitles – and they’re actually worth reading here, which is not something you can always say about a film with this much martial arts and fisticuffs.

Jeon Do-yeon (South Korea’s version of Meryl Streep, best known in the west for Im Sang-soo’s The Housemaid and Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine) stars as Gil Bok-soon, a middle-aged single mother to teen daughter Jae-yeong (Kim Si-a). Jae-yeong and the yummy mummies at the private school Jae-yeong attends think Bok-soon is some kind of executive for an events company, which fits with the crisp haircut and boxy Chanel boucle jacket. In a way it’s true, because her employer, MK Ent, calls the contract killings it’s hired to do “shows”; Bok-soon is their star assassin, revered by her colleagues and rivals alike. Here special skill is her ability to game out in her head the next steps in a tricky situation – the film will sometimes show her doing this and then rewind back to an earlier point, which is a little confusing. Wait until you get towards the end, when an ultimate boss fight becomes a panorama of multiple, CGI-replicated Bok-soons and her adversary, as they slug, stab and shoot it out all at once.

Writer-director Byun Sung-hyun, an up-and-coming director, handles the action sequences with real flair, but does an even better job limning the complex, sometimes fraught relationships – especially the mother-daughter one between Bok-soon and Jae-yeong. It turns out that Jae-yeong is attracted to girls and has been secretly dating her best friend for some time, which leaves her exposed to blackmail. Meanwhile, like any career woman, Bok-soon has to deal with office politics, staying in the good graces of both her main boss Cha Min-kyu (Sol Kyung-gu), who’s always been sweet on her, and his mercurial younger sister Cha Min-hee (Esom) whose ruthless streak makes Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s little sister, seem like Minnie Mouse. All the threads come together in an extremely satisfying way for the finale, and leave plenty of room for a sequel.

• This article was amended on 30 March 2023. An earlier version incorrectly called writer-director Byun Sung-hyun female.

• Kill Boksoon is released on 31 March on Netflix.


Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

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