Jeon Do-Yeon is Boksoon, the top assassin for the MK Order, a society of elite assassins who live by a strict code and are governed with firm enforcement by the no-nonsense Chairman Cha (Sol Kyung-Gu). Having been at the top of the killing game for a long time Boksoon is softening around the edges, the blood thirst that kept her killing ebbing in favour of a quieter life. Not least as she wants to mend the estranged relationship with her teenage daughter (Kim Si-A). Balancing motherhood and secret assassinations is becoming increasingly difficult and as her daughter begins to retract from their relationship (she herself dealing with her own set of teenage emotions and problems!), Boksoon feels it’s time to put her daughter first. Yet, leaving a secret society of deadly assassins is no easy feat and when Boksoon doesn’t follow through on completing her recent kill mission she herself becomes fair game for a multitude of ruthless killers.
Slick, stylish and stuffed with a surfeit of violent fight action, ‘Kill Boksoon’ is a superb tale of stylised action and a protagonist attempting to leave their violent profession behind. Set in a sort of heightened reality with a dark-graphic-novel-come-to-life vibe ‘Kill Boksoon’ manages to balance the heartfelt emotion and over-the-top action with aplomb. Propelled by a fantastic and fully committed performance from Jeon Do-Yeon (‘The Housemaid’, ‘Ashfall’), one roots for her to get out of the assassin life and make a less violent life for her and her daughter. While not without flaws, Boksoon is a dash of warmth in a cold and brutal world and through a cleverly constructed narrative we learn of her induction into the assassin world and how she came to be where she is. A fully fleshed out character Jeon Do-Yeon does the role proud and is a force of nature as she cuts through those who want to prevent her from making the life she wants.
There’s some great world building as the realm of secret assassin societies is explored and fleshed out (Chairman Cha’s own past is touched on, the training of new recruits, assassins from different organisations meeting to eat, drink and compare notes!) meaning there has been much inevitable comparison to the ‘John Wick’ franchise. Yet, ‘Kill Boksoon’ has its own DNA and forges its own path with the mother/daughter relationship the heart and dramatic thrust of the film. Boksoon finds it difficult to fully relate to her daughter, finding it easier to kill multiple bad guys with a blade than talk to her daughter properly. Their relationship and the issues both are dealing with are handled with depth and add an additional dramatic layer to all the fight action and slick visuals. There’s also a welcome subplot of a new recruit/rising star of the MK order being taken under Boksoon’s wing and later becoming an important ally.
Not to fear, there is also some great fight action on show. Jeon Do-Yeon is ace in the multi-confrontations she endures, the fight action crisply choreographed and brutal as hell. While director Byun Sung-Hyun (‘The Merciless’) relies on slow-motion a little too often, he and his crew craft some of the year’s best fight scenes, not least when Boksoon takes on multiple opponents in a restaurant: you feel every stab, punch, bone break, skin slice and the sheer will of Boksoon to survive and kill everyone.
At two plus hours, ‘Kill Boksoon’ retains its grip for the majority of its runtime only faltering late in the third act due to a satisfying climax never really arriving (perhaps wanting to leave options open for a sequel!) and an important dramatic moment fumbled somewhat tarnishing what has come before a little. Proceedings could have been wrapped up perhaps ten minutes sooner but despite these couple of stumbles, ‘Kill Boksoon’ is still some stellar South Korean assassin-themed action that is dominated by a wonderful (and kick ass) performance from lead Jeon Do-Yeon.