A girl in a school uniform approaches a guy in a dim alley. She stares and smiles at him.
“For 30 grand, you can go the mile.”
The man raises an eyebrow. “What’s the mile?”
She rolls her eyes. “Don’t you know about voluntary date rape?”
They get down and dirty in a corner to the tune of goofy, big band saxophones. They end up waking up a neighbor.
“What’s all this fucking against my wall? Let the old widow get her sleep.”
A sinister-looking man comes to check on the noise. He has a wide furrowed brow that looks like a baggie filled with rocks. You desperately want it to be make-up effects, but it’s probably plastic surgery gone wrong. The girl gasps at the sight of him.
It’s her teacher.
She offers him the 30 grand special to keep the secret. He smirks.
“For the 50 grand special, I’ll forget it all.”
So what exactly is the “50 grand special”? Something kinky? Something dangerous? Something that involves a lot of personal lubricant and an Elmo costume? At the very least, it should be something in bad taste.
And it is.
For the low, low price of 50 grand, you get to dance near her to the tune of an early-aught guitar “anthem” that combines post-post-post grunge and off-key vocal wankery. It’s aught-rock at its worse. The scene is not short and makes the 60-minute runtime last for centuries.
The hooker falls in love with him. She gives him “freebees” [sic] even though she makes the English and ethic teachers pay full-price. Now she is pregnant with his child and is ready to retire from hooking.
But, things don’t go as planned and soon she’s sawed into little bits and turned into a killing machine! She’s one part hooker, and several parts machine. She’s sent to Division 6 to forcibly remove bad guys.
Now, this is the section of the film you came to see; it’s what the title promises. But unfortunately, the killing machine is in another movie. The deaths are underwhelming and, for a movie that’s supposed to be about killing, there’s surprisingly few of them. What it has instead are zooming shots of the girl while she stands in dimly lit areas.
Still, you can see the ambition behind Killing Machine. It’s more artful and thoughtful than you’d expect in a movie about a teenage hooker who gets turned into a cyborg assassin. There’s some fantastic make-up effects, sticky gore, and aspirational visuals, including a long shot of a creepy old woman hunched over a sewing machine in the middle of a dingy warehouse. There are also lofty—if a little tired—juxtapositions, including a scene where an opera singer sings off a rooftop while the hooker gets cut into pieces. There’s also a scene where a single solitary tear falls from the hooker’s eyes while mad scientists dig into her torso. This is the only scene you can relate to.
Korea is known for a lot of things—Samsung, BBQ, boy bands, Oldboy, my mother—but they’re not known for their low-budget, shot-on-video exploitation productions. With Killing Machine, you understand why. But you can also understand how this film might’ve made waves and ruffled feathers in a country that completely outlaws pornography, bans books about sexuality from public libraries, and has strict laws that govern what is deemed “appropriate” to the masses (for example, tattoos are blurred out on TV shows). Killing Machine is certainly brave for its violence, gore, and sex, as mild as they may be compared to anything Tim Ritter did as a teenager. In the end, what this film needed to land American audiences was less melodrama and more killing and more machine. I would’ve gladly paid 50 grand for that. But I am proud and grateful that there are filmmakers in Korea willing to push the line and show a man get his crotch detonated.