The top hired gun in South Korea, Gil Boksoon, never worries about the authorities. Instead, Boksoon (a brutal Jeon Do-yeon), a middle-aged single mother, fears the day her detached 15-year-old daughter, Jae-young (Kim Si-A), learns of her secret assassin career.
The inventively slick “Kill Boksoon,” from the writer and director Byun Sung-hyun, bears several similarities to another recent thriller about a hit woman, “Gunpowder Milkshake.” In “Kill Boksoon,” trained killers work for individual mercenary companies, where they are ranked based on their proficiency. The biggest outfit, MK Enterprises, run by a cunning and remorseless brother and sister, Chairman Cha (Sul Kyung-gu) and Director Cha (Esom), even trains children as assassins through internships.
It’s an unforgiving world, shot with uncanny style by the cinematographer Cho Hyung-rae: Balletic fights aren’t shown head-on, but reflected in puddles and mirrors, or seen through the blurred windows of a fast-moving train. Because Boksoon can anticipate her opponents’ moves, we see her mental simulation of each fight as she keenly plots her strategy. These confrontations are so thoughtfully staged that you wish the same care had been extended to the sound design and score, which lack the ferocity necessary for such a vicious action-thriller.
As Boksoon struggles with whether to give up the career she loves, her employers betray her. Beneath the gore that ensues is a story about understanding. Jae-young wants to reveal to her mother that she’s a lesbian; Boksoon longs to stop killing and be an ideal mom. From the two characters’ search for acceptance emerges a tender mother-daughter bond worth its weight in blood.
Not rated. In Korean, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 17 minutes. Watch on Netflix.