Kiss Me, Kill Me (킬 미, Yang Jong-hyun: 2009)

Hitman Hyun Jun senses something is not quite right while on a job, only to find that his target is a young woman by the name of Jin young who has paid for her own murder. Sparing her life, but angering and frustrating her in the process, Hyun Jun walks away – but the two find themselves unexpectedly crossing paths again and eventually a relationship forms between them…

At first glance Kiss Me, Kill Me (also known simply as Kill Me) looks like just another ‘assassin with a heart’ story, but director and writer Yang Jong-hyun knows his genre (or genres) and delivers a blend of romantic comedy, character comedy and thriller that playfully toys with your expectations throughout. Firstly there’s hitman Hyun Jun – played by Shadowless Sword‘s Shin Hyun-jun – who, on the surface of things, has a cool head, a sharp exterior and a professional (i.e. emotionless) approach to his work. He’s quite a piece of work – until we find that he still lives at home with his mother, has no friends or social life and is lonely. Then there’s Jin Young – played by Oldboy‘s Kang Hye-jeong – a young woman who can’t quite bring herself to commit suicide (one attempt that we see, which brings to mind the movie Suicide Circle, is pretty pathetic) so has paid someone else to do the dirty deed for her. By turns a pathetic sniveling wreck and a headstrong oddball, Jin Young keeps the reasons for her depression to herself, yet seems happiest moping around and sulking. It may not sound like it but as long as you can appreciate its fine line in black comedy you’ll find yourself hooked within the first few minutes.

A film like Kiss Me, Kill Me is pointless unless you like the leads, and here they’re the strongest thing going for it here as Kang Hye-jeong and Shin Hyun-jun seem to be having a ball. Kang is particularly good in what is far from a glamorous role – for at least half of the duration she looks a mess, eyes red from crying and showing no interest in her appearance. There’s never any attempts to wink at the camera in any way, playing it perfectly straight and increasing both the comedy value of many of the scenes and the likeability of the character in doing so. She also manages to make the smallest detail effortlessly funny – she’s handed a toilet roll so she can blow her nose and she simply wipes her nose on it and tosses the whole role – the more straight faced Kiss Me, Kill Me is played, the funnier it is. Shin Hyun-jun gets to play things a little broader, although for the most part he’s equally deadpan. Hyun Jun is largely confused but trying desperately (therefore amusingly) not to show it. Unsure of how to feel in the social world as his job offers no emotional connections – and by turn confusion about his feelings for Hyun Jun who has blurred the line between the two worlds together – he’s a social incompetent who functions best through violence when pushed, but who gets no personal satisfaction in doing so.

As good as the two leads are, the whole film doesn’t just hang on the casting. Director Yang Jong-hyun confidently (especially for a debut feature) lets Kiss Me, Kill Me unwind at it’s own pace, choosing to concentrate on the unconventional characters rather than rushing the plot. Opting for a mixture of comedy and drama rather than one or the other, Kiss Me, Kill Me twists its way through a variety of styles without lurching uncomfortably from genre to genre. Dramatic moments are delivered in a comedic style – see the clip on the trailer where Hyun Jun sets himself up in a position to assassinate his target only to look over his shoulder and notice a Police sniper – and perfectly fit rather than ruin the tone.

There’s a running theme of ‘coincidences’ that’s obvious throughout Kiss Me, Kill Me with all sorts of directional and narrative nods supporting a feeling of inevitability to proceedings. This is carried throughout as the couple find themselves bumping into each other in the most unlikely of circumstances – an idea which works well as it’s used subtly enough to be charmingly stylistic, rather than the cheesy rom-com device a more heavy handed approach would have given. Despite this, it’s never entirely clear how the whole thing will end until we get there. Kiss Me, Kill Me cleverly sidesteps those last twenty minutes of melodrama that the majority of these types of films often slip into in their attempt to tidy up all loose ends. While there’s certainly only a handful of ways that the film will end, Kiss Me, Kill Me doesn’t signpost which way its directed and keeps you guessing up until the last few minutes, which makes a change.

A great looking film, Kiss Me, Kill Me might have a dark sense of humor but the cinematography and editing keep it simple rather than slipping into too much stylization – with the exception of a visual thread which makes use of a roaming camera-style and some simple CGI to follow the passage of a leaf (think of the feather in the opening and closing of Forrest Gump) again underlining this idea of inevitability. These scenes are shot as if there’s almost a fantasy twist to proceedings, but it left as a suggestion and never oversteps the mark by committing to any reasoning.

While on paper there’s nothing really in Kiss Me, Kill Me that we haven’t seen before, the fresh approach along with two strong performances make it one of the most memorable and likeable films of its type in recent memory. It’s never too full on – it’s not laugh-out-loud hilarious nor full of action – but as a gentle film with interesting characters and an absurd and occasionally  wicked sense of humor, its well worth seeking out.

킬 미 (Kiss Me, Kill Me)
Directed by Yang Jong-hyun
Produced by Kim Mi-hee
Written by Yang Jong-hyun
Starring Shin Hyun-jun, Kang Hye-jeong, Kim Hye-ok, Park Chul-min

Kiss Me, Kill Me Image © SidusFNH Corporation