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Kill Boksoon

The first scene in "Kill Boksoon"—a stylish, if anti-climactic, fight to the death—should set viewers’ expectations for this Korean mother/daughter assassin drama. The movie’s title also serves as a nickname for the venerated hitwoman Gil Bok-soon (Jeon Do-yeon), a single mom who now feels estranged from her teenage daughter Gil Jae-young (Kim Si-a). And in the opening scene, Bok-soon tries to set a good example for Jae-young, who will never know about this fight nor appreciate that her mother tried to be “fair” when she let a Japanese gangster attack her with his weapon of choice (a 400-year-old wakizashi sword).

This introductory battle ends suddenly because the rules that govern Bok-soon’s professional life are very different from the ones that she’d like to apply to her domestic life. It begins with some overly generous dialogue between two killers, continues with some amusing hard-boiled banter, and abruptly ends after some well-timed blows are exchanged.

The fight choreography and direction in this scene have snap and vigor, but still might not leave viewers with a strong impression given how much dramatic stress is put on dialogue, not to mention how the fight ends so quickly after it starts. Your mileage may vary, but you’ll probably be disappointed with “Kill Boksoon” if you’re hoping it’s more concerned with propulsive action violence and less with hit people who don’t know how to work through their feelings.

In “Kill Boksoon,” writer/director Byun Syung-hun foregrounds Gil and her daughter’s relationship. This melodramatic focus takes some getting used to, but only really feels strained towards the end of the movie when Byun (“The Merciless,” “Kingmaker”) takes a moment to wrap up Jae-young’s sub-plot than Bok-soon’s over-arching story. That makes sense, given how much stress Byun puts on the already outdated standards of conduct that Gil must obey as a member of MK, a high-powered job agency for professional murderers. MK exercises a monopoly on the hit person industry, and their leader, Chairman Cha (Sol Kyung-gu), tends to exclude anybody who doesn’t follow three rules: 1) No kids, 2) No “events” that aren’t sanctioned by MK, and 3) If you’re asked to facilitate an event, you must try to do the job.

Bok-soon’s work life arguably doesn’t need much unpacking. She’s a figurehead at MK and a hero to its employees, who are either ranked with a letter grade or are in training. There’s consequently a professional (and social) hierarchy separating Bok-soon from her peers, who gather at a bar in an early scene and mostly grumble to each other about MK’s rules and power rankings. Bok-soon glides past such petty concerns, including passive-aggressive comments from Hee Sung (Koo Kyo-hwan), a rising star at the MK agency.

One of Bok-soon’s events inevitably does not go to plan, which puts her in Dutch with Chairman Cha. But for a while, “Kill Booksoon” concerns the weird rules that govern our anti-heroine’s world. Action fans might be reminded of the “John Wick” movies since deeper emotional connections are mostly teased, and various side characters mope about the end of a more chivalrous era. The key difference is that in “Kill Boksoon,” Bok-soon tries to connect with her loved ones, which can be a little tricky since Jae-young would rather not talk about whatever’s going on at school. Bok-soon also processes some of her feelings for Jae-young while she’s on the job, particularly when she’s teamed up with Kim Young-ji (Lee Yeon), an aspiring hit-woman.

If anything, Byun is too precious with his supporting characters, all of whom have potential but are generally not developed in meaningful or affecting ways. Byun seems to like all of his characters so much that he’s loathe to either cut any of them loose. That’s only distracting because, eventually, the action scenes have to do more talking than the characters, and when that happens, it doesn’t feel like a great emotional release, not for them or us. That’s the point, I know—or a point—but there’s also something uniquely disappointing about an action drama whose creators dote on their protagonists, sometimes to the point of distraction.

“Kill Boksoon” is ultimately more promising than flat-out good. Byun doesn’t always deliver strong enough dialogue to carry the movie during pivotal emotional scenes, but he does treat most of his ensemble cast members like they’re good enough to star in their own movies. Everyone gets a highlight-reel-worthy standout moment, and there are a couple of exceptionally strong fight scenes (FYC: the bathroom brawl). Byun ultimately pulls too many punches, but “Kill Boksoon” remains impressive, if only for its unexpected sensitivity and considerable emotional range.

On Netflix today.

Simon Abrams

Simon Abrams is a native New Yorker and freelance film critic whose work has been featured in The New York TimesVanity FairThe Village Voice, and elsewhere.

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Film Credits

Kill Boksoon movie poster

Kill Boksoon (2023)

Rated R

137 minutes


Jeon Do-yeon as Gil Bok-soon

Sol Kyung-Gu as Cha Min-kyu

Kim Si-a as Gil Jae-young

Esom as Cha Min-hee

Koo Kyo-hwan as Han Hee-sung

Kim Sung-oh

Lee Yeon as Kim Young-ji



Director of Photography



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