Originally published August 2: After their success with The Swordsman, agreeably, it would only make sense that the respective star and director of that film would join forces for another venture. Thus, we have Choi Jae-hoon’s latest, The Killer, a ubiquitous production that has since gone on to see South Korean actor Jang Hyuk on a major stateside promotional tour for the film this summer.
Invariably, the film does play on some familiar action movie tropes and even lends a jocular nod to a particular 2010 action thriller that fans of South Korean action would immediately recognize. It certainly doesn’t waste any time inviting a brief moment of our hero, Yi-gang (Jang), laying waste to a small group of hooligans in an action sequence that plays out in full way later into the film.
Evidently, this all stems from the film’s key premise, which sees our protagonist eventually leading a quiet married life in a nice, fairly sizeable home and working as a building manager. It’s not long before he is asked by his wife to babysit her friend’s 17-year old daughter, Yoon-ji (played by GWSN member Anne), a task which he reluctantly accepts knowing that coming-of-age young adult lacking in certain maturity is bound to be a handful to a degree.
How long? Mere hours later, Yi-gang ends up tracking Yoon-ji down at a roller rink with a friend of hers as the two are coralled by several more thugs and another girl trying to shoehorn them into prostitution, before pulling the two girls to safety and incapacitating the miscreants. And, it gets worse: most of those teenagers are found dead in the same location, framing him as the murderer with a seemingly dogged detective zeroing in, forcing him to go beyond taking matters into his own hands when Yoon-ji is taken from his home and kidnapped.
The underlying narrative of the film takes its cues from the original web novel with flashbacks of Yi-gang as a hired hitman who, at one point, is hired by a girl to kill her. Not much gets explored beyond this point to help formulate a more stronger characterization to learn more about his past and what afflicitions made him want to retire, which often renders the role of Yi-gang a bit stale in his seemingly cold, expressionless demeanor, which isn’t entirely in bad taste. Judiciously, this aspect of his character bodes as more complimentary than anything in scenes where it counts.
The film ventures off to its seedy underworld bearings where Yi-gang goes toe-to-toe with an entire network of human trafficking gangsters, including a dart-shooting blonde-haired bodyguard played by Bruce Khan, the distinguishable star of Lee Seung-won’s 2018 martial arts thriller, Revenger; Save for the occasional sniper kill, Jang leads the charge between every brawl with masses of baddies in between setups and plot point developments, using assortments of fisticuffs, gun-fu and as many sharp and blunt weapons as he can access to spill as much blood as he disrespectfully can.
After all and said and done, this leaves both Jang and Khan to share at least three fight sequences with each other, all of which grow more inventive and explosive in succession. The most rewarding aspect of this is that on top of Jang’s own personal devotion to training, as frequent enough as he is in the action genre in that he’s now considered by some as a “veteran”, is that he himself also choreographed the action sequences. It’s a fact that director Choi gets to put his own name next to after The Swordsman and segueing to horror for last year’s The Hypnosis, which should inherently solidify Choi as a director who deserves a seat among the cadre of action fan favorites to this day.
The Killer does have a few minor faults in character development, tonality, and resonance by the end. The good news here is that you’re not left feeling completely disuaded, and so the ceremony around this film isn’t at all undeserving. At the end of the day, Choi and Jang know how to make an action movie that is both fun and engaging, packaged smartly-crafted killer fight sequences, and a familiar kind of action hero you can albeit fully get behind. That’s what Jang brings to the table with The Killer, and so if you enjoyed The Swordsman and love films like Taken, The Man From Nowhere and even John Wick for that matter, consider taking a seat with us, and bring a friend.
The Killer was reviewed for the 26th edition of Fantasia Festival. The film was also released in select U.S. theaters from Wide Lens Pictures and Shaw Entertainment last month, in addition to screening at the 2022 edition of the New York Asian Film Festival where Jang Hyuk was on hand to receive the Daniel A. Craft Award For Excellence In Action Cinema.
[A previous version of this article was updated with correct attribution to Jang Hyuk’s surname.]