It was only days ago that the retired assassin Ui-gang (Jang Hyuk) was enjoying a happy life with his wife (Bang Eun-jung). Now, after the kidnapping of a girl in the director Choi Jae-hoon’s muscular action flick “The Killer,” Ui-gang is facing down a barrage of goons in a narrow hallway to rescue her. He doesn’t flinch when an ax whizzes past his ear. Instead, with unblinking precision, he tears through two would-be killers while a shocked group of tough guys watch in fear from an elevator.
Choi spends the first half of the film building back to this moment: Ui-Gang’s wife wants to take a trip with her friend, who has a teenage daughter, Yoon-ji (Lee Seo-young). An unamused Ui-gang is charged with babysitting the girl while the pair go on vacation. Soon after they leave, the 17-year-old is kidnapped by a sex-trafficking ring with Russian ties. Whoever is pulling the strings specifically wants Yoon-ji and Ui-gang needs to kill that person to save the girl.
While the tightly choreographed action scenes in “The Killer” take their cue from “John Wick” and “The Man From Nowhere,” the film lacks heart.
Adapted from the novel “The Girl Who Deserves to Die” by Bang Jin-ho, the screenwriter Nam Ji-woong’s undercooked script leaves the interpersonal dynamics between Ui-gang and his wife underwritten. While the nimble Jang holds together the robust action sequences — bloody freakouts often captured in slow motion — no one else grounds any of the scenes with any emotion. Consequently, “The Killer” fails to land a real knockout blow.
Not rated. In Korean, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters.