There’s no shortage of revenge plots and vigilante killers in K-Drama thrillers, and Kill It is OCN’s 2019 venture into this genre. While it is a well-produced project from a technical standpoint, unfortunately, Kill It doesn’t exactly “kill it” in terms of delivering a story that was entirely distinctive. Or, in my opinion, really all that exciting to watch play out. However, what this drama does provide is a satisfyingly dark take on one man’s hunt for justice, and the woman who tries to lead him closer to the light.
Korean Name: 킬잇
Genre: Crime thriller
Number of Episodes: 12 episodes
Episode Length: 60 minutes
Recommended For: Fans of police-procedural thrillers and morally gray characters
NOT Recommended For: Anyone looking for fluff, romance, or a happy ending
Jang Ki Yong as Kim Soo Hyun
Nana / Im Jin Ah as Do Hyun Jin
Noh Jeong Eui as Kang Seulgi
Jung Hae Gyoon as Do Jae Hwan
Do Hyun Jin works as the highly-competent head of a detective team, a position she is underestimated in by her male coworkers and is encouraged to quit by her wealthy adoptive family. Despite this, her own drive for justice, stemming largely from the suspicious circumstances of the death of her journalist boyfriend years prior, has led her on a fast track through her career. When she crosses paths with Kim Soo Hyun, the mysterious veterinarian that works in the animal hospital in her new apartment complex, Hyun Jin begins to form a friendship with him despite his initial coldness. However, unbeknownst to Hyun Jin, Soo Hyun is actually a highly skilled killer with an agenda of his own and a background in espionage to cover it. However, as Hyun Jin begins to unravel the mysteries behind her boyfriend’s murder, she discovers this case may be much bigger than she could have ever expected and it may be connected to both Soo Hyun and her adopted family in way that will call all of her loyalty into question.
In an industry where dramas are constantly being released every few months by a multitude of broadcasting stations, a story needs something special to stand out – be it plot, casting, or just a remarkable production value. While I don’t think Kill It was necessarily lacking in the latter two aspects, it simply didn’t deliver a compelling narrative in a market where dramas about gun-toting vigilantes and corrupt businessmen are a dime a dozen. That’s not to say it didn’t have its merits, but poor pacing and inconsistent characterization really detracted from my enjoyment of this drama. My overall experience watching this ended up being just a little underwhelming as a result.
I firmly believe the concept for Kill It could have been better served in a two hour movie, and not a 12-episode series. There’s a lot of great things happening in terms of well-choreographed fight sequences and hard-hitting scenes that tackle some very dark subject matter. Thus, the problem lies with how these scenes are placed along a timeline of events that is otherwise incredibly mundane, or just flashbacks to a previous episode. Much of this came in the form of very poorly disguised attempts at product placement that comprised a number of incredibly pointless filler scenes. Like even when a brand of instant coffee wasn’t being paraded at the audience (get that coin, OCN) so much time was dedicated to drawn-out scenes of dialogue that really didn’t further the plot or endear me to any characters.
The actual story itself is also somewhat convoluted, and not in a “makjang” drama kind of way. Rather, it left me confused instead of incredulous. From tropes like childhood friends long forgotten and then reunited, to stolen identities, to adoptive parents that switch from allies to enemies without explanation, and a whole lot of unlikely coincidences to glue them together, I was left with a narrative I just didn’t buy into. There’s nothing overtly self-aware about any of this lack of believability and yet, it doesn’t have enough dramatic flair to be campy. So I was stuck in the strange situation of being more uncomfortable than entertained. Put simply: it’s a little outrageous, but not in the easily digestible antics of a makjang drama. I wanted to take Kill It seriously, and found myself more frustrated trying to believe it than suspend disbelief.
And I think that comes down to just how serious the driving conflict of the story was: a black market for children’s organs run covertly by a collection of high-ranking members of South Korean society. As twisted as it sounds, I appreciate that this drama broached this subject because it is such a graphic and horrifying money-making scheme. It truly makes you despise the collection of antagonists (doctors, businessmen, doctors who are businessmen, etc.) that are involved in the operation. As a result, I found myself genuinely supporting Soo Hyun’s efforts to thwart them through his… lethal strategies. To put it kindly.
In the end, the greatest strength of the entire series lies in the themes it explore. For all my gripes with the technical aspects of the drama’s storytelling, I do appreciate that it didn’t take the easy route of giving the hero a typical redemption arc and (spoiler, perhaps) conventional happy ending. I think I was almost expecting a City Hunter-esque payoff for Kim Soo Hyun’s revenge plot and was genuinely surprised when I didn’t get one. Though I can’t say the ending was really a tearjerker for me, despite its brutality. But that’s more due to my indifference to the characters themselves than the events of the finale.
Somehow, I found it hard to connect with any of the characters of Kill It, and I don’t think its out of lack of relatability. I do think it’s more than possible to become invested in the lives of a character you can’t see yourself in, but unfortunately I didn’t much care for anyone besides Hyun Jin. Some of that indifference was the result of the cast being primarily composed of old morally bereft businessmen I was just waiting to get axed. But a bigger part of my issues with the characters came down to not understanding their motivations and, even more frustratingly, finding a lot of the hero and heroine’s characterization to be inconsistent.
I feel like most characters spent the entirety of the drama alternatively between being unrealistically clever and then uncharacteristically dumb. Soo Hyun, for example, casually leaves his veterinarian shop open and unlocked, giving Hyun Jin the opportunity to stroll into his “secret” gun dungeon as easily as if she was walking into her local grocery store while he is away. With that kind of security, or lack thereof, it’s amazing nobody caught onto to his years of covert assassinations long before this. With such conflicting characterization it makes it hard to really believe him as this ruthless and unstoppable killer who has spent years undercover as veterinarian.
Hyun Jin, admittedly, would draw conclusions based on fairly shoddy evidence that ended up progressing her case and (I suppose) showing her competency as a detective. While it was nice to see a K-Drama character that’s actually able to put two-and-two together for once, this wasn’t a consistent character trait because there would also be moments where Soo Hyun’s obvious shadiness would go completely over her head. It made it hard to believe I was watching the same woman.
I do struggle a bit with my overall opinion of Nana’s character, Do Hyun Jin. I did love seeing a whip-smart female protagonist competently leading a detective team, almost as much as I loved her personality not being a wooden log with unrealistic physical prowess. Oftentimes a female character can only be seen as “tough” when stereotypically masculine stoic persona is prescribed on her. Regardless, Hyun Jin managed to be serious when she was involved in her work and a bright, encouraging presence to others in her life outside of it.
It’s her motivations I take some issues with, or at least the way her main drive in being so dedicated to these investigating these murders is introduced and then neglected for the entirety of the drama. It’s shown that Hyun Jin is motivated by her boyfriend’s untimely death that occurred while he was involved in his own investigation but we never see enough of her boyfriend to form the same kind of attachment to him, and by the end of the drama he’s an easy factor to even forget for all his minimal appearance in flashbacks. I don’t think she needed some added emotional trauma as a driving force for her in the investigation, and if anything it just made the plot a little more messy and hard to follow. Some good ol’ dedication to justice might have done well enough.
Soo Hyun, as our morally ambiguous male lead, is a little more on the darker side of gray. Nonetheless, he always squeaks by on the right side of still wanting to root for. Soo Hyun’s fondness for animals softens him from his “killer” persona. It’s hard to hate anyone that’s so unfailingly gentle with the animals he cares for as a veterinarian. Seeing him systematically take down these men who so clearly need to be stopped made me feel like I should be able to overlook what is essentially murder. It was just murder of some very despicable individuals that also perpetuated murder. Tricky, I know.
I liked seeing Soo Hyun’s motivations over time change from a personal drive to discover his forgotten backstory, to an unwavering drive to rid the world of an evil that nearly took his own life as a child. While he did face a very dark ending, I think it was an almost inescapable fate for a character so enshrouded in death. At least, it let him reach a level of inner peace that the world outside may not have looked so kindly on. And let’s be honest, nobody is watching a drama like Kill It for an ending that allows the antagonist a second, third, or even fourth chance.
The only side character that sticks in my mind is Seulgi, the orphaned high-school girl who has inherited the apartment building Hyun Jin and Soo Hyun reside in. The “plucky, young girl who softens the jaded heart of a bitter old man” is a well-used character archetype that I typically don’t like, but Seulgi grew on me over time, even if her confusing backstory initially had me more focused on trying to figure out why she was important to the plot than what her character actually was. I do want to make a point to say I genuinely appreciate how Soo Hyun and Seulgi’s pseudo-sibling relationship was showcased and developed. Furthermore, I specifically wanted to commend the writers’ decision to never portray this in any kind of romantic, “younger girl crushing on her protective longtime friend” kind of way. Instead, Soo Hyun is very resolutely portrayed as a big-brother figure for Seulgi and a source of stability for her after the death of her parents. More than Seulgi’s somewhat cliched friendship with Soo Hyun’s revenge-obsessed employer Go Hyun Woo, her relationship with Soo Hyun resonated with me.
Kill It features and actor and actress without much experience in a leading role as the respective hero and heroine of the story, and it shows less than you might expect. That’s not to say it doesn’t show at all, but Jang Ki Yong was perfectly believable as a stone-faced “killer” and After School’s Nana delivered another performance to disprove the negative connotations attached to the idol-turned-actor stereotype.
I think it’s fair to note that Jang Ki Yong’s character, Soo Hyun, didn’t demand as much emotion as our female leads, or even the supporting members of the cast. Soo Hyun is an impassive man of few words, after all, and spends a lot of the drama either ignoring people around him, speaking in short sentences, or delivering very satisfying headshots to very bad people. But when the emotion needed to be there, it was present. It wasn’t jerking any heartstrings, but I feel that was due to more of how emotionally detached from his character than a poor performance.
Nana, as previously stated, stepped up into a role that demanded equal parts – an action star and career woman with emotional baggage. I think she made Do Hyun Jin into as sympathetic a character as she could be, and any awkwardness I sensed from her in the role is something I could easily ascribe to her being unfamiliar in a lead role which is completely understandable, given her relatively small filmography.
The rest of the supporting cast also delivered on some solid performances. The ragtag detective team of Do Hyun’s workplace was a fun bunch of varied personalities, and Roh Jeong Eui was a very convincing high-school girl. That’s understandable given that she is, in fact, a teenage girl, but it was a great performance nonetheless for her young age. I’ll look forward to seeing her in bigger roles that let her push her acting range with a character that is a little further from her own demographic.
I will say Jung Hae Gyoon, who played Do Hyun’s abhorrent adoptive father Do Jae Hwan, didn’t exactly cut the most intimidating figure as our primary antagonist and our big bad. Maybe that’s the point, where a terrible destructive force can come in the form a tiny little human, but either way he was never quite convincing to me. I think I like him more in doting, fatherly roles. But, alas.
Much like the rest of the drama, the soundtrack for for Kill It is dark, somber, and slow. It’s perhaps not particularly memorable, but lovely nonetheless. I would name “Unspeakable Secret” by Jang Hee Young as the standout OST of the bunch. It features an absolutely beautiful, sweeping orchestral bit that was a perfect complement to some of the more dramatic, melancholy moments of this already rather bleak drama.
Min Kyung Hoon’s “Forever Love” is easily the most abused song of the soundtrack however, or at least it’s the one I remember hearing played again and again. It’s a bit of a strange choice given the nearly non-existent romantic undertones of the relationship between Soo Hyun and Hyun Jin. Hearing the wailing chorus of “Forever Love” overlayed moments that weren’t overtly romantic by design was a bit distracting, and I could have down without it. But overall I really did enjoy Kill It‘s soundtrack as a whole.
I really have nothing but praise for the technical aspects of Kill It, and that is especially true of the cinematography. This drama is beautifully shot. Thoughtfully shot, really, with some scenes being specifically filmed in a way that made it clear the filmographers had a clear intention and vision with the transitions and parallels they wanted to establish. It’s artful, without being distracting. It lets you know, as a member of the audience, that intention has been put into the planning and framing of the actors and actresses and I really did appreciate that. Unfortunately, some of this effort is squandered in the way Kill It was edited. With so many seemingly redundant scenes and meaningless flashbacks to pad runtime, not even the way this drama was shot could save it from its flawed composition.
"Kill It" is a thriller that is a bit lacking in thrills, and most of the uncertainty of its many convoluted mysteries manifests more in confusion than intrigue. Undeniably well-produced, the pacing detracted enough from my overall enjoyment for me to give this a "just okay," despite some of the intriguing themes the drama explores.