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K-drama ● Review: A Shop for Killers

English Title: A Shop for Killers

Korean Title: 킬러들의 쇼핑몰 [lit. killers’ shopping mall]

Director(s): Lee Kwon

Screenwriter(s): Ji Ho-jin

Studio: Merry Christmas, Project Onion

Released: 2024

Runtime: 8 episodes, 45m–1h

Starring: Lee Dong-wook, Kim Hye-joon, Park Ji-bin, Geum Hae-na


My Verdict: Solid action-mystery-thriller drama with decent pacing and signposting. Moderately intriguing. Entertaining.


A Shop for Killers

● This 8-episode action-mystery-thriller drama is based on the novel of a similar Korean title (살인자의 쇼핑몰) by Kang Ji-young. Please note that I have not read the novel so the review is purely of the series.


● The series begins with a “cold start”: Jung Ji-ahn (Kim Hye-joon) is pinned down in the living room by sniper fire. The house is in a rural area and with her are two individuals.


● The narrative then shifts to the events before the abovementioned situation although that chronological shift is not immediately clear. Ji-ahn has returned to what was once her home after being notified of the death of her uncle Jung Jin-man (Lee Dong-wook), the younger brother of her father. Jin-man had raised her since the death of her parents. The narrative alternates between the present (of Ji-ahn under attack) and the past events that have led to this attack.


Jung Jin-man (Lee Dong-wook)
Jung Jin-man (Lee Dong-wook)
Jung Ji-ahn (Kim Hye-joon)
Jung Ji-ahn (Kim Hye-joon)

● There is intrigue. Ji-ahn is the main viewpoint character so the audience follows her as things are revealed to her, such as Jin-man running an online weapons store. This is expressed through things she finds on the property and the two people in the house with her. For the audience, other expositions are given through the flashbacks.


● It is apparent that Jin-man was a capable soldier who raised Ji-ahn to be resourceful and to be able to protect herself. So, she has some abilities, enough that she can survive the attack but not so much that she as a character becomes implausible. She, of course, does get help from others.


● Apart from the opening, the shifts between the past and present are clear so there is no confusion. The structure and progression are generally well done, as the past and present provide some relief to each other and keep the narrative fresh. The pacing of the first few episodes could be quicker but that is a minor issue.


● Three of the episodes are entirely or almost entirely set in the past. Although this is necessary for storytelling and does not ruin the series, these three episodes could use at least one scene in the present to break things up.


● The action is thankfully not heavily stylized. It is arguable whether it could be more so but what is shown works well enough. The suspense is mild in intensity, just enough to create tension to make the audience wait but without being pretentious or annoying about it.


● Related to the above, the functional soundtrack helps, for suspense or whatever mood the scene demands. The themes may be a bit too repetitive but the soundtrack is mixed so well that it works without calling too much attention to itself.


● There is the occasional hard cut to avoid showing action earlier in the series, but other than that the cinematography and film editing are also not over-stylized. There seems to be variation in the use of different cameras and angles (such as for POV shots) but, if anything, the series could play with different angles more. The film editing is seamless enough to make use of it.


● The performances are solid and along with the inclusion of flashbacks, the characters come across as more real even if the villains are overly simplistic. Kim Hye-joon as Jin-man really does come across as avuncular: calm and calculated but caring in his own way. His Thai friend Pasin (Kim Min) adds a bit of color and humor to what is at times a tense and somewhat dark story, and Kim Min does a wonderful job playing the slightly shifty but likable guy.


● Kim Hye-joon as Ji-ahn is convincing which is not easy because even if the character is written well (which it mostly is), she could easily come across as implausibly capable or annoying incapable. The character is meant to be the “fish out of the water” trope and Kim Hye-joon strikes a good balance between that and being a young lady determined to survive.


● Overall, this is a series that is solid across the board. It is tightly written with decent pacing and signposting. It is moderately intriguing and entertaining. Perhaps the only real weaknesses are that the villains are over-simplistic and sometimes take their time to act, and not all issues are resolved and all questions answered. There is enough to give a satisfying ending but it is presumably open to a second season.

 

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