I have been known to whine about shows which are not realistic. But when I tune into a three-episode cable tv show about a girl assassin, I’m not really looking for realism. No siree. What I am looking for is badass. And Girl K (or Killer K) is BADASS.
An action thriller has to be, above all else, exciting. Realism isn’t really the point. But the story still needs to be grounded in some kind of reality. We’ve all watched the action movie with explosions galore, but were left quite unmoved because (a) the story was stupid, (b) we didn’t care about the characters, who were stupid, (c) the non-stop action was loud and dramatic, but unrealistic to the point of mind-numbing, or (d) all of the above. An action thriller needs to balance compelling action (for which, hang realism) and engagement (for which, bring realistic human interest).
Some introductory remarks: First, My review is not going to be too spoilery. So, fear not. I’m not going to be talking about plot much, and if I do I will endeavor to restrict myself to the first episode. Also, my screencaps have been taken only from the first episode and its opening credits and closing preview. I can’t however speak for the Comments, which might cross into spoiler territory.
Secondly, this is cable television with a viewer rating of 19. And it’s about a girl colliding with the world of seedy crime inhabited by megalomaniac murderers. So, yeah, the body count is high, the blood flows copiously, and there’s explicit depiction of what goes on in the more dubious sort of massage parlour. You probably shouldn’t be showing this to your ten-year old daughter before you vet it yourself. Just sayin’. But if you are an adult, you should survive. Personally, I don’t find the violence and nudity overly gratuitous or graphic. Fun, yes. Disturbing, no.
Finally, you’ll be glad to hear that by my long-winded standards, this is quite a short review.
Right. Where was I? Oh, yes, the review. This show is BADASS. The story is badass. The acting kicks ass. The action sequences kick ass. The soundtrack is badass.
Have a listen to a track (I hope your speakers have decent bass). Though I grant this doesn’t tell you much. For the point is not what the music is but how the music is used, and this show uses music well – pounding when it should be, gentle when it should be, and absent when it should be:
From the first frame, the story reaches out and grabs you by the throat and sucks you in. The pace only lets up to show us enough about who the people are so that we get to know them and care.
The titular Girl K is Cha Yeong Jin. I like that she is not just some sexy killer robot-girl, some kind of K-version manufactured Mary-Sue / male fantasy Nikita. I was pleasantly surprised that a character who, let’s be honest, is in a show for the purpose of kicking ass could also get me interested in her as a real person. She is written such that we first meet her as a normal schoolgirl suffering normal trials of not fitting in and getting bullied (compounded by her mother’s propensity to move from town to town).
A normal schoolgirl who just happens to have been made to go for extra-curricular martial arts training, for which she appears to have natural aptitude. I appreciate that she looks like a regular schoolgirl. She isn’t pixie-faced or super-model thin, so she doesn’t give me eyeroll-inducing sex/killer-bot vibes.
Relative newcomer Han Groo has been lauded for her portrayal of Cha Yeon Jin, and rightly so. She brought it, heart and soul. True, in some less action-packed moments she veered into over-acting. But she inhabited her character and was Killer K.
It’s lovely to see Kim Jung Tae play a heroic lead. He was last seen playing a sinister gangster in Miss Ripley (MBC, 2011). Here he kicks ass as the good guy. Metaphorically and also literally kicks ass. I wouldn’t have thought that he had the look of a likely Action Hero, but I was totally taken with his resolute and masterful (and sexy as all heck) Yu Seung Ho, the protector ahjussi with hidden killer moves.
The rest of the cast is competent if unremarkable. Jun Mi Sun plays Mom, who is little more than the object of daughterly devotion and ahjussi protectiveness. Park Hyo Joo can’t do much more with her one-dimensional Killer Lady than play her as a one-dimensional killer lady.
Baek Do Bin is your ubiquitous inept but good-hearted police detective. And Jeon Guk Hwan is the Father of all Villainy.
For it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a television show aspiring to a thrilling action story, must be in want of a diabolical villain. And a roof-top helipad.
But it’s Kim Roe Ha who steals the show. Something he has a tendency to do. He was last seen in Comrades (KBS, 2010) chewing up the scenery as the somewhat touched-in-the-head Sergeant Park, and breaking our hearts in the process. Here, he chews up the scenery and totally freaks us out as a gloriously deranged bad guy. There’s no subtlety about his Bible-quoting maniac Jang Se Wook. He is utterly, entirely, over-the-top. And that’s just fine by me. Because there is nothing so integral to an excellent thriller as a villain played with flair by an accomplished actor on a roll.
So, yes, the baddies are writ improbably large and the baddie plots are diabolical and nutso. But, hey, no one said that the show was supposed to be realistic, right? For myself, I found myself quite happy to enter into the spirit of things. I was even happy to give free passes to the dodgy pseudo-science, and a few somewhat puzzling plot points. But if you’re anything like me, these little niggles will do very little to impair your viewing enjoyment. Or, I should say, do very little to impede the headlong hurtle of your roller-coaster ride.
For this show is one heck of a ride. Not that it’s original; it falls fairly squarely within the spectrum of predictable outcomes for its genre. I could even say it is derivative at times. But it is so lovingly conceived and elegantly executed, one is completely sucked in. This show has action sequences worthy of Hollywood. And, astonishingly, at the same time has the only K-drama fairground scene I can recall that touches me and puts me in mind of wistfulness and lost youth, rather than giving me diabetes from sugar overdose.
This drama is one of those that believes it is better to show us than to tell us, not spoon-feeding us information which we can work out for ourselves. And how tremendously it shows! I’m not conversant in film craft, but I’d have to be blind and deaf not to notice the nifty camera work and sharp editing.
At times I had to employ the clasp-cushion-to-bosom-and-whimper technique for coping with heart-attack inducing moments. The action is pretty pounding; subtlety is not its game. But it is not so pretentious as to have “Look! I am gritty!” written all over it. Stylish enough to be impressive, but not over-stylized to the point of being silly. I don’t get the feeling that an action sequence is inserted merely because someone thought it would look cool and decided to do it just because they could.
Neither the story nor the action is subtle, and as the show goes on and ups its emotional stakes, it crosses the line more and more into improbability and excess. But what glorious excess!
The ending? For the record, I LOVED it. I thought it was entirely in keeping with the tone of the show.
Best of all? This show is only three episodes long. THREE! How many 16-episode romcoms have you trawled through just to think at the end, “Hmm. That was ok. Whatever.” Be gone, half-assed offerings of sentimentally and pointless dramatics. Hello, ass-kicking goodness. Come on then, what are you waiting for? Jump right in!
Some regret that it is only three hours of television goodness and not, say, 16. But personally, I wouldn’t tempt fate. If it takes three hours to tell the story (and I felt it was paced just right), let it be three hours and thank the drama gods it didn’t get extended to death.
So, have I tempted you to check this out? Or have you watched it, and loved it? Or hated it? Let’s talk!