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‘Kill Boksoon’: Queers and Contract Killers in the Closet



Jeon Do-yeon as Gil Boksoon, wearing a red suit and grappling an enemy, in Kill Boksoon.
Netflix

Editor's Note: The first Pride marches in Asia were held in Japan in 1994, more than 20 years after the ones held in the U.S.. Of course, “pride” is essentially a Western concept, so this isn’t to say that countries in the East were necessarily “slower” to celebrate queerness. On the contrary, as we hope to show with the films in The Asian Cut's Pride 2024 series, Asia has such rich, diverse, and complex queer histories, particularly when it comes to its many LGBTQ+ cinema industries. And while the handful of films in this collection could never adequately cover the vastness of Queer Asia, we are hopeful that they — and the insights our writers bring — will serve as a launchpad for your curiosity, your enthusiasm, and, at the very least, your love. 


The idea of a closeted life — wherein the hidden inner life of a character clashes against their external circumstances — has long been a preoccupation of various narrative forms. Particularly in LGBTQ+ cinema, this tension between truth and lies, inner and outer worlds, has served as the foundation of so many fascinating character dynamics. Byun Sung-hun’s Kill Boksoon is something of a unique beast in this regard, as the “closeted” scenario here is two-fold: between two of its principal characters, a mother and her queer daughter. 


The former is the titular Boksoon (played by one of Korea’s most highly acclaimed actresses Jeon Do-yeon), who lives a double life as a single mom and a hugely successful contract killer. Meanwhile, the latter, Jae-yeong (Kim Si-a), goes through all the hurdles of a lesbian teenager in love with her classmate. Naturally, mother and daughter each struggle to open up to the other about their secret lives. This makes for an intriguing dynamic, adding a strand of domestic drama in the spirit of Alice Wu’s Saving Face. 


Make no mistake, Kill Boksoon is very much driven by its John Wick-esque assassin action-thriller shenanigans — where Jeon’s committed screen presence sells us on the physicality, determination, and skill-set of this 100% success-rate killer. As you might expect, she gets into a sticky situation of double-crosses and betrayals, setting up a bunch of bloody, break-neck action set-pieces. 


All very entertaining in the expected ways, but what adds an extra layer of weight and gravitas to the proceedings is the mother-daughter relationship here. The generational divide between Boksoon and Jae-yeong, struggling to keep their secret lives separate from their “normal” ones, raises the stakes as they grapple with this tenuous balance between their inner and outer worlds spiralling out of control. 




Kim Si-a as Gil Jae-young, wearing a school uniform, in Kill Boksoon.
Netflix

Boksoon keeps her daughter at a certain distance, seemingly unable to open up about what she really does for work, and, equally, Jae-young, though showing clear affection for her mother, struggles with dealing with her repressed sexuality. As the film progresses, though neither character openly declares their secrets, it’s clear they can feel the weight of each other’s predicament. There’s a warmth to be found in how, even though neither side can find it in them to open up fully, they feel mutually supportive of and care for one another. 


Kill Boksoon also indulges in a slightly darker yarn, where Jae-young’s frustrations are funnelled into violence: she stabs a fellow student in the neck. There is the question of whether this comes about from lack of support for her inner conflict that she keeps hidden from Boksoon, or if this is a case of like-mother-like-daughter, and, like her mother, Jae-young decides to take matters into her own hands. Boksoon is upset at Jae-young for resorting to violence, but it, of course, reveals the inherent hypocrisy considering her line of work. A particularly moving scene later on manages to reconcile these conflicting concerns with her daughter while also encouraging Jae-young to live out her truth. 


Kill Boksoon never delves as deeply into the topic of queerness as one might like — the majority of the film revolves around the action set-pieces — but Jae-young’s inclusion in the narrative, the duality of her dynamic with her mother, and her own version of having a secret life, effectively adds a welcome potency to Boksoon’s journey. Thematically, the film is much better with it, however minor it may be, than without.

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