“Kill Boksoon” (Korean: 길복순, English: Kill Boksoon) is a Korean action film produced by Netflix, released in 2023. It is directed and written by Byun Sung-hyun, who previously directed “The Merciless”. The film stars Jeon Do-yeon, Sol Kyung-gu, Kim Si-a, Esom, and Koo Kyo-hwan. The story follows the legendary hired killer Gil Boksoon as she becomes caught in a deadly conflict before renewing her contract with her company. (This summary is taken from Wikipedia)
If you haven’t seen “Kill Boksoon” yet, it’s recommended that you read a spoiler-free review first. This article is mainly focused on discussing the plot in detail, so please proceed with caution.
K-movie ” Kill Boksoon ” Review & analysis
The director, editor, and cinematographer designed the fight scenes with great meaning and intention.
Analysis (1): Fighting against inequality in the world.
The essence of “Kill Boksoon” lies in its action scenes. The director found a way to make the film shine and give each scene its own personality and vitality. The movie features one-on-one fights, large-scale brawls, hand-to-hand combat, sword fights, and long shots, all with rapid cuts. In every detail, the director creates exquisite fight scenes (especially the camera work, which I particularly love in “Kill Boksoon”!). It seems that the director deliberately made some changes in the time frame, giving the audience a sense of small freeze-frames while watching the fights. In the very first scene of the film, when an axe collides with a knife, the audience can notice some small freeze-frame visuals. This, combined with moments when a train or a trolley passes by, gives the feeling of watching an old movie composed of many framed images.
The movie “Kill Boksoon” is full of creative and violent scenes, while also telling a poignant story about the trauma experienced by a mother and daughter. It’s a solid action film with a deeper exploration of motherhood. I particularly enjoyed how the director used popular songs and creative environments in some of the fight scenes (such as using string music during Boksoon’s fight with Yeong-ji). Despite the violence, the film is restrained and primarily uses action scenes to convey emotions and drive the narrative forward.
In each fight scene, the audience sees Boksoon as a teacher, colleague, and lover, and her movements and expressions convey how others view her and what she is feeling at that moment. I appreciated how each fight scene had Boksoon’s unique personality and inner thoughts. She is both a person and a myth, and each person she fights carries their own views about her, such as in the first action scene where she fights a Korean resident in Japan named Kim Kwang-li. The scene is interesting because it begins with a discussion of “fair competition,” and the director weaves in a news report about a controversy involving a politician’s son trying to get into a music school through unfair means, which Boksoon and her daughter discuss with different perspectives on “fair competition” in the world.
The conversation between Bok-soon and her daughter is as follows:
Bok-soon: “It’s natural for parents to want their children to get into good universities. Don’t they want that too? I’m not saying that lobbying is right, but as parents, we might do the same.”
Daughter: “But that’s not fair.”
Bok-soon: “It’s difficult for things to be truly fair in this world.”
Daughter: “If some people get into college through this method, then others may fail because of it. What if it were me? Would you still say what you just said? If I were a mother, I wouldn’t tell my children that the world is unfair, but rather teach them how to compete with others fairly.”
In comparison to the fight scenes, originally Boksoon and Kim Kwang-li (the leader of the Japanese gang Zhenilang) had weapons of equal level. However, in a moment when Boksoon realized she might not be able to defeat the opponent, she changed her weapon and assassinated Kim Kwang-li with just a few shots. This way of changing weapons demonstrates Boksoon’s belief that the world is inherently unfair and only through unfairness can one survive. This will resonate with the discussion of the “unfair society” that will be discussed later and is one of the reasons why Boksoon became an assassin.
Analysis (2): “We plan to turn Kim Yeong-ji into the second Gil Boksoon.”
In the fight scene between Boksoon and Yeong-ji, viewers can notice that the background music is somewhat like the strings of a tango or western dance like a waltz. I like this action scene because it has a graceful feeling, like a dance, with movements that have a feminine aesthetic, but are also very tense and fluid. In this scene, viewers will notice that “Kill Boksoon” has a style where even though it’s a movie about assassins, all of the action scenes are very clean and concise. For example, in the first scene where Kim Yeong-ji is quickly taken out with a few shots, I really like this kind of action scene without a lot of bloodshed.
I think this action scene is great. It portrays the generational rivalry and competition in an unfair environment, where both characters are struggling as outcasts. Although Yeong-ji admires Boksoon, she didn’t go easy on her during the fight. This shows that Yeong-ji knows she has to be ruthless to survive in the MK system. In this scene, Boksoon proves that she’s not too old to compete and she’s fighting against age discrimination within MK. The match was instigated by Sergeant Shin, who said that Yeong-ju would become the second Boksoon. This implies that Sergeant Shin was already planning to replace Boksoon. Therefore, this fight was a way for Boksoon to prove that her age doesn’t hinder her ability to compete, and it criticizes the unfair environment that she and other characters are trapped in.
Analysis (3): “Heaven destroys those who do not act for themselves.”
In the third action scene, I really liked it. Each character who fought against Boksoon had their own interests. From the core concept of “This world is inherently unfair” in the movie “Kill Boksoon” it can be seen that human nature can turn against each other in an instant. Earlier, Hee-seong said, “Why do those in power always make the rules?” which perfectly echoes the formation of this fight scene. The council only stated a condition that everyone wanted, and the atmosphere between them became instantly hostile.
This scene is really impressive. The two groups of characters fighting on both sides of the garage door, the camera spinning round and round, using the cross-section of the wall as a transition point for the action. It’s a bit like a one-take shot, with some editing points in the middle, but that’s not important. What I want to say is that the director and cinematographer beautifully presented the struggle of Boksoon and Yeong-ju in this world where interests, inequality, and oppression prevail.
Compared to raising a child, killing someone is much easier.
Analysis (4): Boksoon is a hitman, but also a single mother’s dilemma.
Although one of the main focuses of the drama “Kill Boksoon” is that the assassin Boksoon, is also a “single mother”, the director uses this character to give the audience a different perspective on the lives of single mothers. I think this is a topic worth exploring because single mothers in Korea often face social shame and rejection for raising children outside of marriage. Although official statistics show that there are at least 24,000 single mothers in Korea, the actual number may be much higher because these mothers do not want to report their situation. Other estimates show that as of 2020, there were 1.5 million single-parent families in Korea. In addition, many Korean single mothers are economically disadvantaged, as women’s income in Korea is typically only 63% of men’s income.
Although Boksoon is not impoverished and even lives in a luxury home, as portrayed by the screenwriter, she still has to deal with the social prejudices and unequal pressures that come with being a single mother, especially in Korea’s unequal status of working women. For example, Boksoon must continue her job as an assassin to support Jae-yeong, even though she dreams of retiring soon and gaining her freedom. But in fact, the plot suggests that Boksoon is being confined to a discriminatory and unfair environment by her company. This is because the contract between Sergeant Shin and Boksoon specifies that Jae-yeong cannot interfere with Boksoon’s work, which is also why there is a gap between Jae-yeong and Boksoon, as Boksoon can only prioritize her work.
This is very relevant to our society, where women in the workplace are often gradually pushed out or eliminated because of pregnancy. Many mothers are forced to quit their jobs or sacrifice opportunities to be with and care for their children. This is the main reason for the relationship between Boksoon and Jae-yeong in the plot because when Jae-yeong has a secret in her heart, she only builds walls against her mother who is not close to her and will only harshly criticize her mistakes like all other mothers.
“How did you wither? If you’re thirsty, you should tell mommy,” this is what Boksoon said to a dying plant at home. In the drama “Kill Boksoon” the audience can deeply feel the serious barrier between Boksoon and her daughter Jae-yeong. If Boksoon is used by the screenwriter to depict the duality of being a mother and a professional, then Jae-yeong represents the pain of being a teenager in Korea, which causes conflict and tension between the mother and daughter. The early scene where Boksoon and Jae-yeong discuss “social inequality” proves this point. By using Boksoon’s line “How did you wither? If you’re thirsty, you should tell mommy,” the screenwriter actually shows Boksoon’s difficulties, incompetence, confusion, and the mistaken belief that raising a child means the child will tell you what’s wrong.
“Compared to raising a child, killing is simple.”
“And killing is also a good way to make money.”
The character Boksoon in “Kill Boksoon” and Nam Haeng-seon in “Crash Course in Romance” are actually quite similar. If there is something in common between the two works, I think it is the effort and struggle of being a single mother and constantly raising children. For Boksoon, being a mother is even harder than killing someone. When Min-kyu joked that Jae-yeong inherited her mother’s talents, Boksoon was angry because she wanted to be a “mother” and did not want Jae-yeong to face the same motherhood dilemma in the future if she became a mother. When Min-kyu’s mother asked Boksoon how she educated her child, it was a blow to Boksoon because she could not lead by example, and she believed she was not a good mother.
Even if Boksoon did what a mother should do, she still could not get the reward she deserved. When Boksoon asked if Jae-yeong really wanted to kill Cheol-woo, Jae-yeong replied, “I am not a plant you raised, don’t bother me.” Boksoon answered, “Do you think a plant will grow well on its own? I need to water them, change their pots, prune them, and even weed them. That’s what I do.” This passage implies that Boksoon is not satisfied with just doing what a mother should do. She wonders why Jae-yeong is not growing like the other plants. At the beginning of “Kill Boksoon” Boksoon said to the plants, “Tell Mommy if you get thirsty.” This not only shows Boksoon’s desire to talk to her child but also implies that she has done what she should do but ignored some details. Jae-yeong is like the plant that is withering away, and Boksoon does not know.
However, the screenwriter also hinted that because Boksoon took care of the plants in a formulaic way, she could not detect Jae-yeong’s troubles. One reason Boksoon had to continue working was to ensure that Jae-yeong could keep up in the highly competitive “hell” society of South Korea. The screenwriter used Boksoon to demonstrate that this society values education and reputation. That’s why Boksoon spent a lot of money sending Jae-yeong to a prestigious private school. It was partly her mother’s duty and partly her desire to make Boksoon happy. This “education craze” issue is similar to the mothers in “Crash Course in Romance” who are obsessed with their children’s grades and social status.
That’s why earlier it was said that Boksoon seemed to treat Jae-yeong like a plant because taking care of plants only requires a formulaic approach.
Analysis (5): Boksoon’s past trauma became the frustration of Boksoon not knowing how to be a mother.
When arguing with Jae-yeong about why she would hurt Cheol-woo, Boksoon remembered the first time she killed someone at the age of 17. At that time, Cha Min-kyu said that Boksoon was a natural-born killer. Boksoon said, “Growing up in a violent environment is normal, so I hope Jae-yeong can be different from me from head to toe. But when I look at her, I sometimes think of my young self, and it scares me.” If Boksoon’s childhood memories only consisted of her father, it could be inferred that she did not have maternal love in her childhood, only strict and inhumane education from her father.
The drama does not elaborate on why Boksoon’s father was killed by Cha Min-kyu, but it is clear that Boksoon’s father’s temper and violence were the reason. The young Cha Min-kyu said, “If you want to live to a ripe old age, you should be kind to others.” This statement also proves that Boksoon grew up in a violent environment.
Therefore, Boksoon chose to become a killer at the age of 17, perhaps as she herself said, because she grew up in a violent environment and was always treated violently by her father. However, I speculate that Boksoon, like Jae-yeong now, had a secret but did not have normal parental care to help her develop normally. Therefore, Boksoon may have lacked the maternal love from her mother in her childhood, which led her to not know how to be a mother. This highlights that both Boksoon and Jae-yeong were not close to their parents and believed that if their parents knew their secrets, they would be harshly criticized, making them miserable. (This also echoes when Boksoon’s father found out about her secret smoking habit and punished her by making her eat the cigarettes, which can lead to children being estranged from their parents, and even turning to violence or resentment.)
Representation of the pain of teenagers in their environment by Jae-yeong
Analysis (6): Secrets that teenagers dare not speak out
The character Jae-yeong represents the exhaustion and pain in the education environment and the emotional distance in family relationships. This is why Jae-yeong’s friends smoke and why, during a conversation with their partner, they mention that “all mothers are the same. They may act like they love us, but if they knew our true selves, they would hate us.” The director uses a scene where Jae-yeong is caught smoking to illustrate their inner thoughts. Jae-yeong imagines confronting their partner about smoking, both softly and harshly, but ultimately ends up saying to themselves, “Why not just kill her?” This kind of unconscious thought is a form of pressure that adults unknowingly create for children as they grow up.
In the film, we can see that Boksoon wants to educate her daughter in different ways, but she is conflicted internally because she knows that she shouldn’t use the same education methods as her father or the MK. However, her thoughts and beliefs still influence her daughter. This can be traced back to Boksoon’s father, who made her eat cigarettes as a lesson when he caught her smoking. Boksoon chooses to understand why her daughter smokes through a gentle approach and even suggests smoking together, but ultimately fails to connect with her daughter. The internal struggle and choices that Boksoon faces as a mother and a killer are illustrated through these scenes.
This is why Sergeant Shin suggests to Boksoon, “Why don’t you try to find a father for your child?” A family’s completeness is reflected in the child. If there is a lack of love between parent and child, then the child will build walls and keep secrets from their parents.
As for Jae-yeong’s troubles, they are struggling to cope with their sexual orientation. At this stage, Jae-yeong feels like an abandoned person. According to reports from abroad, young LGBTQ Koreans are often isolated and bullied in school, especially when their secret is revealed. This is why, at the beginning of the film, Jae-yeong wants to kill Cheol-woo, because their secret was discovered by other classmates. Lack of support from family members also forces these LGBTQ Koreans to silently endure their suffering. Jae-yeong is afraid of being rejected by Boksoon when their sexual orientation is revealed because, as they believe, all mothers love their children but will hate them once they discover the truth.
Analysis (7): It’s not your fault, why do you need to hide?
I really like the scene where Boksoon and Jae-yeong confide in each other at home in “Kill Boksoon”. This scene fully demonstrates Boksoon’s vulnerability as a character, and Jae-yeong finally allows the walls in her heart to gradually crumble. Both of them are like wounded children licking each other’s wounds, and both are victims of this unfair environment. They speak words of praise and encouragement to each other. This is the quietest, but also the most beautiful, heartbreaking, and touching scene in the movie.
In this scene, I think Boksoon used a great way to break through Jae-yeong’s defenses, which is to show her own vulnerability and let Jae-yeong feel that Boksoon also has a side that is not perfect. The scene is like peers chatting, and Jae-yeong sees that her mother is not always strong in the face of social injustice and oppression, and hates and rebels against it. I think this also led to the opportunity for Jae-yeong to speak out her inner secrets. In parent-child relationships, children often close themselves off from their inner selves because they think adults are “rule makers”. Therefore, when Boksoon tells Jae-yeong, “It’s not your fault. Why hide?”, it injects Jae-yeong with full energy because Boksoon really stands on Jae-yeong’s side as a mother, instead of blaming her as a mother.
So I also like the scene the next day where Boksoon prepares a balanced diet with lots of food, but this time with a delicate gesture of pushing the processed meat that Jae-yeong likes in front of her and saying, “Sometimes unhealthy things are the most delicious.” From this scene, we can see that “Boksoon finally knows how not to be an adult who sets rules for children”, which is the kind of mother that children want.
“Kill Boksoon” satirizes the unequal society created by powerful adults.
Analysis (8): Life as a Contract Killer in an Unequal Society
The world-building in “Kill Boksoon” further emphasizes the atmosphere and environment of “competition” and “inequality,” which is in line with the three rules established by the MK company seven years ago: do not kill minors, only produce works allowed by the company, and strive to complete works assigned by the company. The establishment of these rules is to prevent amateurs or unemployed people from entering the industry and disrupting the market, much like intentionally monopolizing the entire assassin world. This action echoes Jae-yeong’s statement, “If someone can enter school through connections, then someone else will be eliminated due to this unfairness.” MK is the person who uses connections to enter the industry, thereby making it impossible for the unemployed and amateurs to survive.
According to some foreign media, some people have found that MK is somewhat similar to a screenwriter’s satire of the ecological environment of Korean K-pop entertainment companies. In MK, assassins are ranked by letters, with Boksoon being the highest A-level, while other colleagues have lower levels, such as B, C, or D. Although the assassins in MK are ranked according to their skills and success rate, their ranking also depends on their connections and age (for example, Boksoon has a deep relationship with Sergeant Cha and always receives special treatment, but age may also become the key to Boksoon being eliminated; Hee-seong has almost been banned because of offending MK, and always at a low level). The rules that assassins inside and outside MK must follow are often arbitrary and restrictive. For example, MK’s boss prohibits assassins from accepting work outside of the company, even if they have debt pressure and cannot accept contracts from other companies. This rule is to control every person in the company.
This reminds people of how K-pop entertainment companies control the diets and dating lives of their idols, or how companies use non-compete agreements to hinder employees’ careers, just like in the K-pop industry, where aspiring contract killers must be trained for years from a young age to make their debut. Once they make their first appearance, they work under strict contracts that can last for years until they reach their peak.
Seeing this, it is clear that the workplace environment created by MK implies the competition and unfairness of this society. This is why Boksoon and Jae-yeong talk about “unfairness” in the opening scene of “Kill Boksoon”. This echoes the character of Gil Boksoon, who is the best assassin in the Korean underworld. Under the supervision of Cha Min-kyu, the underworld follows very strict rules, and MK strives to control everyone in society, leading to Boksoon’s long-term struggle for high-level positions, which forces other assassins to work low-paying jobs, causing resentment, inequality, and jealousy, all of which make Boksoon a target.
The plot mentions “why are the rules in this world decided by those in power? Because it makes those in power stronger. Aren’t those rules just a means for MK to monopolize the market?” This question immediately points out how MK assassin company creates even greater unfair competition by using this method, and makes it impossible for those who are already squeezed at the bottom to rise up. Applying this environment to the education system, “Kill Boksoon” begins with news of a government councilor lobbying a music academy for his son, which is a reflection of this kind of unfair practice existing in every corner and system of society.
Analysis (9): “The person who gives you everything can also be the person who takes everything away from you.”
In Boksoon’s company, she encounters her own dilemma. Although she likes the current MK company, internal conflicts arise, and Boksoon also faces a choice between work and her daughter. This is reflected in the crisis that Boksoon discovers that she is about to be kicked out of the company in the second fight scene in “Kill Boksoon,” where Boksoon and Yeong-ji, the strongest killer of the old and new generations, confront each other. It is enough to show the “discrimination” that Director Cha has towards Boksoon in the company environment.
If the audience noticed Director Cha saying “We want to cultivate Yeong-ji as the second Kim Boksoon and then make her debut,” what I noticed was the word “debut.” As we mentioned earlier, the MK company is like a K-pop entertainment company that trains idols. The “assets” of these companies must be shaped and molded by the company. Therefore, the company may treat you as an asset, but when a better product appears (as Boksoon also said in the movie, “I am already past my prime”), various unfair conditions and competition will fall on you. This also echoes Hee-seong’s words, “The person who gives you everything can also take everything away from you.”
So Sergeant Shin said, “Every woman who has given birth resigns. Good knives will also get old, dull, and lose their usefulness.” This echoes Hee-seong’s words, “The person who gives you everything can also take everything away from you.” Boksoon faces the fact that she is considered by Sergeant Shin as someone who is about to be past her prime, and this is a form of discrimination. I remember that Boksoon said to Hee-seong at the beginning, “Strength determines rank,” so although Boksoon is loved by everyone in the MK company, MK is also the one who pushes Boksoon off the pedestal. The writer uses Boksoon’s story of how she is being treated by the company to illustrate the unequal discrimination in a company that only values age and appearance.
Analysis (10): Why did Boksoon suddenly not kill the son of Senator Wu?
This decision was a sudden change after reading a suicide note, which had several key points: “Father is innocent,” “Cannot tolerate this injustice,” “Do not want to be a burden anymore,” “Dad, please forgive me for leaving first.” The identity of the son, Wu Xiangmin, was introduced at the beginning of the TV show “Kill Boksoon,” where Congressman Wu lobbied the school to admit his son. This Congressman is someone whom Jae-yeong refers to as an unfair competitor. Initially, Boksoon agreed with Congressman Wu’s behavior to help his son, but why doesn’t she want Congressman Wu’s son to die now?
I think this is a plot twist designed by the screenwriter. Firstly, before committing the crime, Boksoon received a call from her daughter saying “Mom, I’m sorry.” This made Boksoon think of her daughter. Since the world is not supposed to develop this way according to her daughter, Boksoon wants to create a world like that for her daughter. As a mother, she should change and not comply with this unequal world. Secondly, another important reason is that Boksoon discovered that the target was a child (the company should not kill children), because she found out that the target was Congressman Wu’s son, not the company’s claimed deranged murderer.
In short, Boksoon caused the mission to fail because she realized that the real demon in this world is the world constructed by adults, not children. It is adults who determine right and wrong for children. Moreover, I believe that Boksoon realized that the person who hired the hitman to kill his son was the boy’s own father. This is why Boksoon recalls the past when her father was going to be killed by Sergeant Shin, but Boksoon killed her father first. In Boksoon’s mind, her father was someone who wanted her dead, but she didn’t do anything wrong. Why is smoking wrong just because her father thought so? Comparing this to Congressman Wu’s behavior of wanting to kill his son, it shows that Congressman Wu does not admit his mistakes but instead believes that his son’s death can wash him clean and get rid of his guilt.
Therefore, in the end, in the “Kill Boksoon” Easter egg, Congressman Wu will be killed. My suspicion is that Boksoon killed Wu Zhengzhi because she found out that he was the person who wanted to kill the child. She thought that such adults are too evil, so she faked his suicide. This way, she could ensure that the world would not be corrupted by him. Perhaps this is why Fushi initially wanted to renew the contract for this work, as it is something that Fushi wants to ensure.
Analysis (11): Hee-seong “I don’t want to give up my job because of my father.”
The character Hee-seong is the most pitiful character in my opinion because he became a thorn in the company’s side and was suppressed, leading him to only be able to work on projects without the company’s permission. He would make deals with Director Cha because he had already lost in many fair competitions, and his fate could only be decided by those in power. Boksoon was also forced to accept the violence from her friends.
In Hee-seong’s character, I see him gradually withering away in this unfair competitive environment, the helplessness and struggles forcing him to become a bad person who betrayed Boksoon. I think the scriptwriters put a lot of effort into Hee-seong’s character’s dialogue, where he mentioned that the world is full of contradictions, but there is truth behind them. I believe he realized that the contradiction is the helplessness of the world’s unfairness.
Analysis (12): “A Perfect Match” Ending: Boksoon Chooses to be a “Mom” and to Fight Against the System.
The screenwriter ultimately had Boksoon choose to be a mother, which includes the principle of “not killing minors.” However, this principle caused trouble for Boksoon. For her, this principle was basically something she came up with first because she knew that this world is controlled and manipulated by adults, and children have almost no way to resist. That’s why when Boksoon met Director Cha at 17, she chose to sacrifice her abusive father and follow Director Cha directly. Boksoon knew that this was her golden ticket in this world.
“Kill Boksoon” spends a lot of time depicting the evil world that children live in, which is created by adults. Children don’t have to bear the rules that adults set, they can choose to stand up bravely and resist without hiding. Therefore, the “blood-stained knife” that Boksoon sent to Director Cha in the end was a rebellion against the “rules”. Because to some extent, she was also a victim in this unfair world. Even if she would be hunted by other companies or MK, she must destroy the “rules” that were packaged by the authority with her own hands, in order to exchange for her own freedom.
An interesting detail is that when Director Cha received the bloody knife for a one-on-one fight, he called Jae-yeong at home, and the background of the phone was a member of parliament crying on TV, “This is not just a simple suicide, but the ugly struggle of adults.” The screenwriter used this to tell the audience the core issue of “Kill Boksoon” (and ironically, the parliamentarian who hired the killer to murder his own son created his own rules and strengthened his own power). The world created by adults endangers children. This is why when Yeong-ji was killed, Boksoon was so angry. She chose to fight the “rules” (Director Cha) because the children did nothing wrong.
In the end, the screenwriter also made Boksoon completely become a mother. Even though Jae-yeong saw the scene of her mother killing someone, she did not blame her mother, but instead said “thank you for your hard work” to her. It should be said that Jae-yeong thought her mother was cool. This echoes the previous debate topic about who should be printed on paper money. Jae-yeong chose a female killer because she believed that killing was not easy for girls, so I think Jae-yeong admired her mother. The screenwriter also allowed Jae-yeong to choose a different way to solve the problem, not only protecting her loved ones, but also not hurting the person she hated. Instead, she chose to leave calmly. I don’t think Jae-yeong became the second Boksoon. Because Boksoon deeply taught Jae-yeong that “it’s not her fault,” so I think Boksoon’s role as a mother was truly successful all the way.