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.

BLAZE (2018)

Blaze Foley lived a short and eventful life. He had heaps of talent but combine that with the self destructive gene many artists possess and success was beyond his reach.

Ethan Hawke directs this beautiful, tender portrait of an artist who didn’t reach the heights he may, like many others, have attained. In an interview Hawke talked about the desire to make a film about an artist who didn’t make it:

“One of the things about music biopics is that they’re always about Ray Charles or Johnny Cash or somebody who made it big, and the subtext of that is always that the making it big is what made their life story worth telling and the great mass of musicians that I’ve met and spent time with in my life have all been, you know almost universally met with indifference. That’s kind of the more normal story in the arts and I, in the back of my mind thought I’d love to make a music movie about a guy who didn’t make it, like that would be true to life. I’d like to see that movie and that intersected one night, I’ve been friends with Mr Dickey here for I don’t know 15 years or so and it was a couple of new years eves ago we were sitting around the fire and Ben started playing Clay Pigeons and the idea I said out loud you should play Blaze Foley in a movie and Ben laughed and I kind of….synapses in the back of my neck exploded and I was like I think I’m supposed to do that.”

This quote really stuck with me in the same way that the film did. It is a film that subtly takes a hold of you and doesn’t let go. I don’t listen to a lot of folk music, I appreciate it as I do all music but it’s never on my playlist so without a recommendation from my dear friend and fellow film lover, the very talented writer, Adam Nightingale, I may never have seen it. I do like Ethan Hawke though, I rate him as an actor and an artist who constantly makes interesting films and always seems to choose from the left of centre which is massively refreshing for a film star.

Let’s talk about Ben Dickey, who plays Blaze Foley in the film for a minute. His performance in this is deserving of all the awards. He is not an actor. I repeat he is not an actor. He is a musician which gives the film an authenticity most music bios lack. He is joined by another musician of massive note, Charlie Sexton who plays Blaze’s friend, real life singer songwriter, Townes Van Zandt. This is one of the main reasons the film hits another level of realism. Ben Dickey clearly has a charisma that shines through the screen and brings Blaze to life and his ability to show the pain is evident.

Blaze lived a short life but his songs touched many. The film opens with a quote by Willie Nelson: “There was a lot to ‘ol Blaze” and Willie recorded a cover of one of Blaze’s songs ‘If I Could only Fly’ with another musical legend Merle Haggard in 1987 so clearly this was an artist with talent and great songwriting skills.

Bring on more tales of the unsung artists. After all there are countless documentaries already out there about the famous and lauded. When I saw the Straight outta Compton film all I wanted to do afterwards was watch an actual documentary about the group to wash the taste of artifice out of my mouth. It wasn’t a bad film it just had too much Hallmark about it, as in the drama was too pointed, it lacked subtlety. This is the issue I usually have with biopics, we already know too much about the subject(s) and have already formed our opinions but if the subject is new to us we can approach the film with a blank slate. Many people love these biopics and I’m definitely not saying that they are wrong, merely that the average biopics are not really my lane.

There is a lovely swan song cameo from Kris Kristofferson playing Blaze’s father and cameos from three greats as the oilmen who sign Blaze to make music for them. Wyatt Russell is great as the the owner of the treehouse that Blaze and Sybil live in for a time but the heart of the film belongs to Alia Shawkat who play the love of Blaze’s life, Sybil Rosen (who incidentally plays her own mother in the film). The film is based on Sybil Rosen’s book ‘Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley. Alia gives a performance filled with love, longing, understanding, joy and pain and is wonderful, like Rosen, Shawkat really is the heart of this film.

I think it’s important to wave the flag for films that may have flown under the radar and that is why I’m doing a piece on this one.

See it now on Disney Plus.

Directed by Ethan Hawke

Starring: Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Josh Hamilton, Charlie Sexton, Kris Kristofferson and Wyatt Russell.