Director: Choi Jae-hoon
Cast: Jang Hyuk, Lee Seo-young, Bruce Khan, Bang Eun-jung, Shin Seung-hwan, Lee Seung-joon
Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins
Rating: M18 (Violence and Some Drug Use)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 21 July 2022
Synopsis: 'The hit man's last mission: Keep the girl safe and sound. Ui-kang is a retired hit man. While his wife goes on a trip with her friend, she asks him a special favour to take care of her friend's daughter. He doesn't want to be bothered by the teenage girl but Yoon-ji gets stuck with juvenile delinquents and Ui-kang unavoidably uses a little bit of violence to protect her. However strangely, the juvenile delinquents are found dead and things start to get serious. Even worse, Yoon-ji is kidnapped by a teenager trafficking unit and Ui-kang is suspected of murder. He cannot fail his wife, he must get Yoon-ji back.
Like its title suggests, ‘The Killer’ belongs to the breed of action films that exist only to deliver heart-pounding thrills for its entire duration, with as little complications of plot and/or character as possible.
The eponymous character is retired assassin Ui-gang (Jang Hyuk), whose desire to settle down quietly with his wife (Lee Chae-young) and get into the home renovation business is interrupted when he is entrusted to look after her friend’s step-daughter Yoon-ji (Lee Seo-young). What starts off as a simple job turns out anything but, as the girl is targeted by a sex-trafficking ring with Russian mafia ties.
Not surprisingly, Ui-gang springs immediately into action, teaching the young punks intimidating Yoon-ji at a closed indoor skating rink a lesson or two in manners as well as tracking down the larger ruthless syndicate for which these low-level thugs were working for and would subsequently pay with their lives to.
Working his way up the food chain, Ui-gang will get into multiple brawls and shootouts as he tries to eliminate the imminent threat to Yoon-ji’s life. That quest will bring him to several varied locations; that includes, among others, a grungy office at the back of a subway station, a love motel-turned-prostitution den at the outskirts of town, a container port where Yoon-ji is bound to be shipped from, and a lavish residence where a powerful high court official is revealed to be the mastermind.
Each of these locations is in itself a scene for a tightly executed action set-piece, and to director Choi Jae-hoon’s credit, every single one is intriguing in its own regard. That said, the piece de resistance is no doubt Ui-gang’s raid on the motel, which features a one-against-three fight within an elevator, a one-against-many corridor brawl shot in a single take, and a mano-a-mano in a room between Ui-gang and a formidable Russian hitman (Bruce Khan) in quick, breath-taking succession.
Having participated in the pre-production and action design, Jang makes each scene his own, bringing both nimble athleticism and cool charisma to the role. Jang makes no apologies for his viciousness against his opponents, preferring instead to win his audience’s empathy by his compassion towards Yoon-ji as well as his fierce love for his wife (whose identity will be the subject of a surprisingly poignant reveal at the end of the movie). Comparisons with other similar laconic characters like John Wick or even ‘The Man from Nowhere’ are inevitable, but Jang holds his own as Ui-gang, not least because he has the physique to boot.
That it otherwise lacks the complexities of plot or subtleties of character is deliberate; as Choi and screenwriter Nam Ji-woong will readily admit, this was meant to be a straight-up action film in the same way that the popular web-based novel that it is based on was. Yet in that regard, there is no denying that ‘The Killer’ delivers precisely the sort of unadulterated thrills which it promises, never overstaying its welcome by keeping the proceedings within a crisp and taut one-and-half-hour runtime.
So even as it is hardly original, ‘The Killer’ packs plenty of punch and firepower from start to finish. Its simplicity is also its elegance, the emphasis squarely on the well-choreographed action that is also uncompromisingly brutal. And coming after their equally hard-hitting ‘The Swordsman’, ‘The Killer’ reinforces the unique chemistry that Jang and his director Choi share, which are two very good reasons to believe in the bright future ahead for Korean action cinema.
(Brutal, thrilling and visceral, this straight-up action thriller packs plenty of punch and firepower)
Review by Gabriel Chong