더 킬러: 죽어도 되는 아이 (The Killer: Jugeodo doeneun ai)
South Korea, 2022, 95’, Korean
Directed by: Choi Jae-hoon
Screenplay: Nam Ji-woong
Photography (color): Lee Yong-gab
Editing: Kim Man-geun
Music: Jung Hyun-soo
Producers: Shin Dong-chul, Nam Ji-woong
Cast: Jang Hyuk (Bang Ui-gang), Lee Seo-young (Kim Yoon-ji)
Date of First Release in Territory: TBA
Ui-gang is a hit man who has decided to retire. He has a nice house and all the money he needs, but one day his girlfriend takes a trip to Jeju Island and leaves him with a request. Her companion on the trip has a 17-year old daughter Yoon-ji who will be left alone during their three week vacation. Ui-gang reluctantly agrees to look after Yoon-ji and make sure she doesn’t get into trouble.
But she does get into trouble. Yoon-ji is not a bad kid, but she makes some poor choices, and before she realizes it, she finds herself in a situation far more dangerous than she ever imagined. But just as Yoon-ji is in over her head, her captors too will find themselves with more they can handle when Ui-gang shows up to take her home.
Director Choi Jae-hoon’s third feature film is, above all else, a showcase for Jang Hyuk. The 45-year old actor played in a wide spectrum of genres early in his career, but in recent years he has found a new home in the action genre. This is in part due to Director Choi, whose debut film The Swordsman (2020), set in the Joseon Dynasty, featured Jang as a master swordsman in the process of losing his sight. The film’s impressively-staged fight scenes drew attention in Korea and abroad, particularly through its release on streaming services. Jang followed that up with a sinister turn as the antagonist of Tomb of the River (also screening at FEFF 24), displaying a new, darker side to his screen persona.
In The Killer, Jang plays a cool-headed, sardonic hit man of the sort we often see in films in this sub-genre, but he wears the role so comfortably that the character always holds our attention. He never speaks a word more than is necessary, and keeps his feelings hidden behind an ironic stare. But when the “retired” killer begins to uncover a broader web of crime and exploitation, his stubborn persistence keeps the plot moving forward. Although they don’t spend very much screen time together, his growing concern for Yoon-ji, played by K-pop singer Lee Seo-young (a.k.a. Anne of the group GWSN), gives the story an added layer, with echoes of the 2010 smash hit The Man from Nowhere.
Adapted from the 2018 novel The Girl Who Deserves to Die by writer Bang Jin-ho, The Killer is briskly-told, fun to watch, and contains actions scenes that are fluid, powerful and exciting. There’s something almost graceful in the way Jang Hyuk dispatches the crowds of gangsters who are constantly trying to slit his throat. As lively entertainment, and as a glimpse into the current state of the action genre in Korean cinema, The Killer is worth watching.
Choi Jae-hoon began his career as an art director on numerous films including Princess Aurora (2005), Cadaver (2007) and The Outlaw (2010). He made his directorial debut in 2020 with the period swordplay film The Swordsman, starring Jang Hyuk. He followed that up with the thriller The Hypnosis in 2021. The Killer, based on a popular novel by Bang Jin-ho, is his third feature film.
2020 – The Swordsman
2021 – The Hypnosis
2022 – The Killer