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Lee Seung-joon holds his gun on Jang Hyuk in "The Killer."

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? By all rights, Parasite’s Oscar win for Best Picture should have started a flood of Korean movies into our multiplexes. Instead, the pandemic happened, and the film industry in South Korea took longer than most others to get back up and running. Korean culture hasn’t gone away completely during the lockdown, what with Squid Game becoming a hit and various boy bands and girl groups releasing new music. Still, movies such as The Witch: Subversion and The Man Standing Next, which were good enough to play in our multiplexes, went straight to DVD or streaming. Meanwhile, Indian films rushed in to fill the void, and while some of those have been quite good, I have sorely missed the fare from one of the world’s most original cinemas. The Killer comes to AMC Grapevine Mills and Cinemark North East Mall this week, and while it hardly breaks new ground as an action-thriller, I’m still happy to see it on the big screen and think about the better Korean films that are surely coming behind it.

Our title character is Bang Ui-gang (Jang Hyuk), who lives quietly in a magnificent mansion and claims to be a property manager for a real estate mogul. Really? The first time we see him, he’s fighting two armed thugs and beheading and befooting them with their own axes. Shortly before that, his wife (Lee Chae-young) suddenly informs him that she’s taking a three-week beach vacation on Jeju Island with her friend (Yoo Seo-jin), leaving him to babysit the friend’s 17-year-old daughter Kim Yun-ji (Lee Seo-young). Alas, while he’s failing to connect with this kid, she’s kidnapped by a ring of international child sex traffickers. He only beats up the male thugs who are holding her, but soon the men are murdered and their boss (Bang Eun-jung) calls Ui-gang to tell him he’s been framed for a quintuple homicide. He’s remarkably unruffled by this news.

Director Choi Jae-hoon adapts this from a popular graphic novel by Bang Ji-ho. This thriller does move crisply at 95 minutes, and there’s a fight scene between Ui-gang and a Russian hit man (Bruce Khan) that’s lit with some cool purple accents, with the Russian firing blades from his Spetsnaz-issue ballistic knife. Jang, who played the lead in the period action film The Swordsman, gives some cynical humor to the role, laughing along with the feeble jokes of a kneecapped pimp before shooting the wounded man in the head. (Note: Ui-gang does that last bit a lot.)

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I just wish there had been some character growth — the part is about as dynamic as Jack Reacher. Failing that, I wish there had been more twists in the plot, as Ui-gang forces a crooked cop (Lee Seung-joon) to clean up after him and traces the sex ring to *yawn* powerful Korean politicians. Since Oldboy, all Korean thrillers feel the need to have their hero kill a bunch of guys at once. One of these was 2011’s The Man From Nowhere, which the script here name-checks because the movies share similar plots, and the comparison doesn’t flatter The Killer.

The Killer
Starring Jang Hyuk and Lee Seo-young. Directed by Choi Jae-hoon. Written by Nam Ji-woong, based on Bang Ji-ho’s graphic novel. Not rated.

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