Kill Boksson poster

South Korean cinema and action go together like strawberries and cream. 

Gil Bok-soon is a single mother who tells her troubled daughter that she works for an event company. The event company, MK Ent. that she works for is actually an agency that takes on contract killings. Boksoon is the top Assassin with a 100% success rate.

Hwang Jung-min in Kill Boksoon

Hwang Jung-min in Kill Boksoon

The film opens at night on a deserted bridge. A tattooed man, a South Korean Japanese-born Yakuza, played by the always brilliant, Hwang Jung-min wakes up to find a woman dressed like a nurse whom he recognises as being the famous killer Bok-soon, they then begin the first of many brilliantly choreographed action sequences that appear in the film.
It’s a top opening gambit scene that starts a journey for the audience that is both unexpected, inventive and highly enjoyable.

Jeon Do-yeon in Kill Boksoon

Jeon Do-yeon is Gil Bok-soon

With the recent release of John Wick 4, America has also shown that they are up there with the best of them when it comes to true martial arts cinema which is great news for fans of the genre. With JW4 (and the three-vious ones) having had a huge cinema release worldwide it is no surprise that it is doing really well at the box office and receiving a LOT of attention. Kill Boksoon is probably doing well in South Korea but the fact that Netflix acquired the film and is available ONLY on Netflix is both great and a great shame.
This film shares some assassinate DNA with the Wick franchise.

Why couldn’t I watch this at the cinema?
This is one of the problems with Netflix, they spend a ton of money on making or acquiring these films and deny the audience a chance to experience them as they should by sticking them straight onto their streaming site. One of their recent acquisitions, which was nominated for a bunch of awards, the war film All Quiet on the Western Front had a very limited cinema release that I unfortunately missed but at least it was available for a second. Living in Australia it can be difficult to find South Korean cinema on the big screen, although I am going to see Memories of Murder in a few weeks at the Golden Age cinema in Surry Hills and I did see Broker last year, but unless it makes ripples at Cannes or one of the festivals around the world it’s unlikely that it will make an appearance at the cinema. 
I guess I have to get my own screening room………

It works both ways though because the reach Netflix has is much greater than the traditional route and so the filmmakers get their films out to a potentially massive audience and ultimately that is what they want but Netflix should do what they did with Western Front, The Irishman and several others more.
Give us us cinema option.

Kim Si-a and Jeon Do-yeon

Kim Si-a and Jeon Do-yeon

What sets Gil Bok-soon apart from her peers is her ability to play out the contract like a chess maestra, always looking ahead to fulfil her means. She is a veritable virtuoso lead violin of death in an orchestra filled with jealous instruments competing with her.

Her relationship with her daughter is fraught with the usual miscommunications, they are constantly trying to connect but miss each other every time.
In this respect, Kill Boksoon shares some family dynamic DNA with the superb Oscar winner of 2023; Everything Everywhere All at Once as well as some cracking fight sequences.

Gil Bok-soon is played by the brilliant Jeon Do-yeon whom I first saw in the excellent Untold Scandal in 2003, which was based on the French novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses and she also featured in last years Emergency Declaration (2021).

2003 was also the year that Park Chan-wook’s classic Oldboy was released as well as Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder, Kim Jee-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters, and Kim Ki-duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter….and Spring. 
This was the year I began my journey into South Korean cinema. It was a good vintage and I was probably not the only non-South Korean cinema lover to step into this incredible cinematic world at this time.

Jeon Do-Yeon is fantastic in this film, she manages to convey the motherly confusion and desire to protect as well as the brutality that is required for her job.
She can fight you know.

Sol Kyung-gu and Jeon Do-yeon

Sol Kyung-gu and Jeon Do-yeon

The head of MK Ent. is Cha Min-kyu played as usual with depth and groundedness by Sol Kyung-gu who was excellent in The Book of Fish (2021) and was incredible in Memoir of a Murderer (2017). He had previously worked with the director of Kill Boksoon, Byun Sung-hyun in The Merciless (2017), which was great and well worth a look and Kingmaker (2021), which I haven’t seen yet.
His character in this film has a history with Bok-soon that causes jealousy with his sister, Cha Min-hee. played by Esom, who is an executive of the company and has the potential to make life very difficult for Bok-soon.

Bok-soon juggles her family life with her professional at times, with difficulty, constantly trying to keep many plates spinning whilst the world around her is conspiring to force them to fall and smash.

The film is a veritable who’s who of top South Korean character actors, with Lee Yeon playing a young and upcoming very talented trainee assassin, the company bosses played by Kim Sung-oh (The Merciless/Kingmaker), Gi Ju-bong (a great character actor who has worked a load with arthouse director Hong Sang-hoo), Kim Jun-bae, Lee Young-suk (The Book of Fish), Kim Yong-joon and Shin Kang Kyun. 

Kim Ki-cheon, Jang In-sub, Choi Byung-mo, Koo Gyo-hwan, Jeon Do-yoen and Park Kwang-jae

Kim Ki-cheon, Jang In-sub, Choi Byung-mo, Koo Gyo-hwan, Jeon Do-yoen and Park Kwang-jae.

Bok-soon’s colleagues and drinking buddies who also work for the company and hold her in the highest of regard played by Hoo Gyo-hwan (Peninsula), Choi Byung-mo (The Merciless/The Spy Gone North), Kim Ki-cheon (Veteran/The Wailing), Park Kwang-jae (The Merciless/Memoir of a Murderer) and Jang In-sub (A Hard Day/The Merciless), this group has a lot of fun playing together and provides some of the funnier scenes and an amazing fight scene. I like how the director Byun Sung-hyun uses a repertory of actors in his films, my favourite directors do this, Akira Kurosawa is a great example.
Kim Si-a is really good as Bok-soon’s daughter and they have some touching and heart-felt scenes together. Also worth a mention are her schoolfriends played by Lim Jae-in in her first film and Choi Hyung-joo (Hellbound).

I know that was a lot of names but they are all worth mentioning.
Sung-hyun directs them all with skill and brings out wonderful performances from them all.

Sol Kyung-gu and a bunch of Russian gangsters

Sol Kyung-gu and a bunch of Russian gangsters

This is a film that is massively entertaining and well worth a watch.

Watch it now on Netflix.

137 Mins.

JOHN WICK 4 (2023)

John Wick 4 poster

John Wick 4

On March 7th 2023, approximately 9 years after it first came out, I watched John Wick.

Let me rewind a little, I had been invited to a screening of John Wick 4 by the kind people at Studio Canal and I had a dilemma. I had never seen any of the earlier films so do I watch Chapter 4 cold without seeing the threevious ones or do I embark on the journey properly and go back? Having consulted my dear friend and fellow cinema-ista, Adam Nightingale, I was given the recommendation to go for it and watch them all in the order they is meant to be seen “It is an ongoing saga with its own rules and laws and expanding universe. To go in cold would be to deny yourself the pleasure of seeing the world unfold”.
He was not wrong.
As it happens the first 3 films are all on Netflix, so I began at the beginning.

John Wick is a fun, very well made, action-er that is hugely enjoyable not least for the incredible cast and Keanu getting to do what he does very well and that is actioné. Michael Nyqvist is superb as the villain and it was with sadness that I found out he had passed away back in 2016.
John Wick is retired and mourning the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan) but some Russian gangsters played by Alfie Allen and Toby Leonard Moore pay him a visit and make him very angry and thus Baba Yaga is back in business. Special mentions go to Dean Winters (Ryan O Reilly from HBO’s Oz) who should be in more films, of course, the master, Willem Dafoe playing John Wick’s former colleague and friend and John Leguizamo as the owner of a car shop.

All of the John Wick films are directed by Chad Stahelski who was a former stuntman and the stunt double for Keanu Reeves in The Matrix films and Brandon Lee in The Crow. The first three of the chapters were written by Derek Kolstad who created the franchise.

This is a good sign. Through-lines and consistencies. I like it.

John Wick and his dog

One man and his dog

John Wick-Chapter 2Just when I thought I was out.

This chapter sets the tone for what probably follows in 3 and 4. Let’s do this.
One of the many things I appreciate from having Stahelski direct is the care and attention to the filming and editing of the choreography. He knows his stuff. A lot of fight choreography in film is ruined by the editing, it is so chopped up that the beauty and flow is lost and turned into something lesser than is originally intended. Some of this is to usually to make the actors look better than they are but if you have the talent like the artists in Gareth Evan’s The Raid you will see grace in the movement and Stahelski creates that here, the fights are brilliant, brutal and balletic and have a rhythm that flows and ebbs beautifully.

We get some Peter Stormare at the beginning, who plays the brother of Michael Nyqvist’s character from Chapter 1 and that’s always fun. The original Django himself Franco Nero plays the manager of the Continental hotel in Rome. We are then introduced to Morpheus, sorry, the Bowery King played by Laurence Fishburne, an underground crime boss who runs his empire through fake homeless people and pigeons. The big bad here is played by Riccardo Scamarcio as a Camorra crime boss who calls on John Wick to settle a blood oath and drags him back into the world of death and Baba Yaga-ing. The mirror scene at the end brings to mind the classic Bruce Lee Enter the Dragon finale and is shot beautifully.

Riccardo Scamarcio and Ruby Rose in John Wick Chapter 2

Riccardo Scamarcio and Ruby Rose in John Wick Chapter 2

John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum. This is where the series really hits its stride. The first two were brilliant set ups and here we have the main course, a deeper dive into the mythology.

I have served. I will be of service.

Just before I saw this I heard the sad news that the great Lance Reddick had passed away so watching this had a bittersweet effect. He gets to fight in this one so that was fun to see him alongside Keanu taking out the enemy.
R.I.P. Lance Reddick, thank you for your work.

Lance Reddick in John Wick Chapter 3-Parabellum

Lance Reddick in John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum

In Chapter 3 we are introduced to the adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) who is not well pleased with Ian McShane’s Winston or Laurence Fishburne’s the Bowery King because of the High Table’s perception of them helping John Wick in Chapter 2 and so a new dimension is brought to the series. John Wick is ex communicado now and has a multi million dollar bounty on his head that was revealed at the end of 2 and sees every assassin in New York coming after him. The ante is massively upped. There are, as usual many fantastic action set pieces and the film plays heavily on the mythology and is so much fun. We are introduced to the world of the Ruska Roma crime syndicate led by the legendary Anjelica Huston. Here we get some great (actual) ballet sequences and a peek into John’s earlier years. Halle Berry is fierce as Sofia who owes John a debt and Jerome Flynn has a blast playing a member of the High Table, Berranda. The fight sequence with Wick and Sofia is exquisite and the use of the dogs is tops.

Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry in John Wick 3 - Parabellum

Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry in John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum

Mark Dacoscas has a lot of fun playing Zero, a Japanese assassin with two students played by the great Yayan Ruhian (The Raid) and Cecep Arif Rahman (The Raid 2), all three get to have fun fights with Wick and are given more than the usual fare.

Si vis pacem, para bellum-If you want peace, prepare for war.

John Wick Chapter 4

Keanu Reeves is John Wick in John Wick 4

Keanu Reeves in John Wick Chapter 4

Nowhere to run.

And now for the reason we’re all here. Seeing this on the big screen with an audience was heaps of fun. The series continues with our titular (wanna be ex) assassin, Jonathan Wick still on the run from the High Table, now being chased by seemingly everyone. The always brilliant Clancy Brown rocks up in Harbinger duties bringing a weight to the proceedings and giving Ian McShane’s Winston a dark message from the Marquis de Gramont, devilishly played by Bill Skarsgård, the main foil to Johnny W.

Ian McShane and Clancy Brown in John Wick 4

Ian McShane and Clancy Brown in John Wick 4

John goes to Osaka to a Continental hotel over there to visit and get help from his old friend Shimazu Koji played with the usual excellence by Hiroyuki Sanada, who runs the hotel with his daughter played by English singer/songwriter, Rina Sawayama in her film debut. Donnie Yen turns up early on as ‘blind man assassin’, Caine, an old friend of John’s who is blackmailed to kill him and gives a lovely performance filled with heart and fists and feet and swords and guns and a pencil.

Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård and Marko Zaror in John Wick 4

Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård and Marko Zaror in John Wick 4

From Japan, John seeks out help from his old family the Ruska Roma clan where the head, Katia played by Natalia Tena agrees to help him if he will kill the man who killed her father and therein we get to a very entertaining part of the film as we meet Killa played with relish by English actor and martial artist, Scott Adkins who chews up every moment playing the head of the German table in a large person suit that makes him look like he is straight out of Rammstein’s music video for Keine Lust. (Check it out if you haven’t seen it).

Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen and Scott Adkins in John Wick 4

Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen and Scott Adkins in John Wick 4

Adkins’ large person suit is a nod to the great Hong Kong martial artist Sammo Hung and the fight sequence in a rainy club!!! is alls in and alls out nuts.

A nice addition to this chapter is Shamier Anderson, who I had never seen before but puts in a solid committed performance as an assassin for hire, Mr Nobody/Tracker with his bad ass Alsatian dog.

Shamier Anderson in John Wick 4

Shamier Anderson in John Wick 4

One thing to point out is the cinematography in all of the films, the symmetry is spectacular and Chad Stahelski clearly has an eye for the mise en scene. There is a nice nod to Walter Hill’s The Warriors and the final sequences at the Arc de Triomphe and the Sacre Coeur are epic.

This is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen, it is spectacular and Stahleski has created a franchise that is by far the best action film series of the 21st century thus far. 

Keanu Reeves and Donnie Yen in John Wick 4

Keanu Reeves and Donnie Yen in John Wick 4

It’s big, bold and more than a bundle of fun.

Thanks to Studio Canal for the invite and thank to Addz for the advice. I had an absolute blast.

Check out the trailer:

If action films are your thing or you want to be entertained………

Go. See. It.

Out now in cinemas everywhere.