Not to be confused with John Woo’s classic film of the same name, The Killer (Jugeodo Doeneun Ai) is the new film from Choi Jae-hun (The Hypnosis, The Swordsman) and written by Nam Ji-woong based on a novel and webcomic by Bang Jin-ho. The film made its Canadian debut as part of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
Eui-kang (Jang Hyuk, Tomb of the River, Empire of Lust) is a retired assassin, married and living a quiet life. When his wife (Lee Chae-young, The Cursed Lesson, Tomb of the River) goes on vacation with a friend he ends up, rather against his will, having to watch over the friend’s seventeen-year-old daughter Yoon-ji (Lee Seo-young aka K-pop star Anne from the group GWSN).
The first night she’s in his care however she becomes the victim of a ring of human traffickers specializing in underage girls. There’s only one thing he can do, come out of retirement to rescue her, however many bodies he has to leave in his wake.
Just as Special Delivery, another Korean film that played at Fantasia this year, borrowed from Luc Besson’s The Transporter, The Killer borrows from Besson’s Taken and adds a healthy dose of the John Wick franchise as Eui-kang has to fight his way through hordes of hired muscle, most notably a blonde haired assassin (Bruce Khan, Revenger, The Medallion). Adding to his problems is a dirty cop (Lee Seung-joon, The Admiral: Roaring Currents, The Good the Bad the Weird) who may or may not be responsible for the murders Eui-kang is accused of.
The script attempts to add a bit of depth to the characters via a flashback to a woman who hired Eui-kang to put her out of her misery, Yoon-ji’s issues, and the protagonist’s growing paternal feelings towards her. But that’s all pretty superficial and The Killer’s main focus is on the action as Eui-kang finds himself dealing with not just Korean traffickers but the Russian mafia and an internal trade that one character refers to as “a fucking cultural exchange”.
And The Killer delivers that action everywhere you can think of. An abandoned roller rink, the corridors of a hotel, Seoul’s dockyards, and a few other locations. And it ranges from one on many brawls to close-quarters fights in an elevator and a wrecked van. And from ballistic ballets to scenes of torture to Eui-kang taking out several villains with a gun in one hand and a large coffee in the other.
The fight choreography is excellent, the credits are in Korean which I can’t read so I don’t know who to credit but whoever it was they did a fine job. Credit also goes to Jang Hyuk who did many of his own stunts, increasing those scenes’ effectiveness. There’s some behind-the-scenes and blooper footage of those stunts during the end credits.
The Killer does rely on several familiar plot beats, corruption in high places, a party interrupted by a body falling into the pool, and multiple double-crosses. There’s also the expected final twist, one that explains the novel’s title “The Girl Who Deserved to Die”. But Choi Jae-hun handles it all nicely and keeps the fights coming at a pace that will keep most viewers from noticing until after the film is over.
One of several solid Korean action films to screen this year at Fantasia, The Killer has no real mystery to solve, the plot simply reveals details as needed to get the characters from one fight to the next. This is one to just turn off your brain and enjoy the mayhem.
The Killer was released in Korean theaters on July 13. It was theatrically released in the US on the same date via Wide Lens Pictures. Currently, there’s no announced date for VOD or Digital availability.