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killer behind the old man

Year: 2014
Hong Kong
Language: Korean
Director: Jung Woo-sung (정우성)
commissioned by Hong Kong International Film Festival (omnibus)
Screenplay: Yoon Jung Lee
Cinematography: N/a
Soundscore: Mowg
Cast: Andy Choi, Woo Sang-jeon, Yoo In-yeong
Runtime: N/a
Distribution: HKIFF
Film’s official website: N/a

Trailer: Not available

Seen at the 9th London Korean Film Festival. Special thanks go to the LKFF organisers for providing me with a press ticket.

Screening together with the feature 감시자들 (Gamshijadeul/Cold Eyes, 2013) at the 9th London Korean Film Festival,  킬러앞에 노인 (Killeoapenoin/The Killer Behind, the Old Man) is the directorial debut of Jung Woo-sung. A short originally part of the omnibus Three Charmed Lives – three works directed by individuals better known for their work in front rather than behind the camera – it comes commissioned by Fushan Features and the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

The story is simple: An assassin (Andy Choi), known only as The Killer, has been contracted to finish off a man (Woo Sang-jeon) so old that he might die of a natural causes at any moment. Faced with this realisation, The Killer hesitates for the first time ever and spends the next few days simply shadowing the old man wherever he goes. The victim’s life moves at snail-pace, with gym visits, mealtimes in cafés and flower purchases all being slowed down by his old age, like a clock that is still ticking but about to stop.

What killers look like.

What killers look like… in some alternate universe.

The premise of Killeoapenoin is not without potential, but the short, although described as “perhaps the most stylish and best sustained” (Screendaily) of the omnibus features comes off as too slight. Stylish it is indeed but in a way that is too sleek to provide any substance. Rather, it reminds me of something that Korean televisions dramas are often guilty of when they depict an overly shiny world consisting of only chaebols and heiresses, spectacular apartments that no one but a multi-millionaire could afford and characters that are as if dressed for a fashion shoot every single day – even when the individuals concerned are poor. The Jaguar-driving Killer and the floppy-hat wearing intermediary (Yoo In-yeong) between him and the client fall right into this fabricated, but utterly uncompelling world. Why these individuals would be doing such dirty handiwork is not clear. Are they upper-class eccentrics with nothing better to do in their spare time? I cannot say, because we do not actually learn anything much about the characters – indeed it is well possible that they are in fact not rich at all though they appear so. Sadly, the inner conflict that the film wishes to convey is underexplored, leaving a story that feels like it is trying to be meaningful without offering the substance it needs in order to be so.

Rating: 5/10
Overall verdict: 

While the premise of Killeoapenoin is certainly interesting and not without potential, Jung Woo-sung’s directorial debut ultimately feels too slight for the inner conflict it wishes to convey, delivering style rather than actual substance.

Bonus bits:

Images from the Q&A with actor/director Jung Woo-sung:

Hand-printing ceremony, with Jung Woo-sung being a good sport as ever: