A Love to Kill

Reviewed by: tokyo.moonlit

November 15, 2006

Rating: four

A man and a woman walking on opposite sides of a large, busy road...he is looking for someone, and when he sees her, he crosses...and then he takes out a gun and points it at her as she turns to face him, wide-eyed with surprise. He hesitates to shoot...

A Love to Kill is one of the most stylish and well-produced Korean dramas I have watched. It is arguably not the most romantic, but it ranks up there as being as equally heart-wrenching as the 'classics'. The theme – revenge – is not new, and some of the lines are clichéd (insofar as you feel you've heard them in every other tragic Korean drama) but the cinematography, music, and direction are breathtaking. This is not your typical 'housewife' drama aimed at wringing out as many tears from the viewer as possible; watching this show, you get the feeling that intelligence and sensitivity went into the choices behind-the-scenes in a production of such high quality, such as the beautifully original trailer (the scenes in the trailer never actually happen in the show itself, but serve as a metaphor for the themes in the show) and the artistic cutting of the scenes.

Cast:Jung Ji Hoon (Bi) as Kang Bok-GooShin Min Ah as Cha Eun-SukKim Sa Rang as Han Da-JungLee Ki Woo as Kim Joon SungKim Young Jae as Kang Min-Goo

Brief Plot Synopsis:Kang Bok-Goo is a professional fighter who has never won a championship – not because he can't (in fact, he is a talented fighter) – but because he always remembers his brother's advice not to use violence excessively. This brother abandoned Bok-Goo ten years ago; Bok-Goo now lives with Han Da-Jung, a woman who saved his life when they were young. Out of gratitude, Bok-Goo has decided to stay by Da-Jung's side, although he does not love her, treating her like a younger sister to protect.Cha Eun-Suk is a rising star in Korea, shining ethereally from billboards and TV screens all over Seoul. Yet, behind her glamorous façade lies a sadness: the man with whom she is in love, Kang Min-Goo, inexplicably left her one day, after a five-year relationship, and she is still heartbroken.One day, Bok-Goo's brother returns. But their reunion lasts a brief few hours; Min-Goo attempts to kill himself when he finds out that Eun-Suk, whom he still loves, is engaged to Kim Joon Sung, the son of a wealthy businessman. Looking at his unconscious brother lying in the hospital bed, Bok-Goo swears revenge on Eun-Suk.I'll bring her to you. If you can't be like her, then she'll just have to be like you. More pitiful than you...To carry out his revenge, Bok-Goo trains successfully to become Eun-Suk's bodyguard. His plan is to make her fall in love with him, and then dump her just as cruelly as he believed she dumped his brother. Everything goes according to his plan. However, there is one problem: he, too, falls in love with her.

Cinematography and Direction:I unreservedly award full marks in this section. A Love to Kill is beautifully and artistically shot, with scenes spliced together, slow-motion close-ups of Bok-Goo's fights, splashes of scenes in black-and-white that melt into color again, and careful angles probably meant to showcase Jung Ji Hoon's screen presence. There is even a duel scene à la Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, where Bok-Goo and his adversary fight bare-handed amidst rows of tall, slender trees. The first few episodes were especially intriguing in terms of scene-cutting: if you have seen the movie Memento, you would recognize this style, where scenes in one episode are kept from the viewer, and only shown in the next episode. In the beginning, this streak of artistry was a little bewildering, and it took a little getting used to, but the creative intentions of the director/producer are clear. These are new touches that I've never seen in any other Korean drama (not even in I'm Sorry, I Love You, which was beautifully shot, but not to such a freely artistic extent).

Music:I adore this soundtrack. If you liked the soundtrack to I'm Sorry, I Love You, you'll love the songs here. Melancholic and wistful, bittersweet and tender, they raise the level of sentiment in all the scenes in which they are used. But they're not just emo-songs – there is almost an R&B or jazz feel to some of the songs. I especially like K.Will's "Dream" and Shin Seung Hoon's insert song.

Acting:Jung Ji Hoon does a great job as the brooding, troubled Bok-Goo, torn between his loyalty to his brother and his love for Eun-Suk. It wouldn't be unfair to say that this drama is in some respects a "promotion vehicle" for Bi: the angles are chosen to flatter his stature, fighter's body, and high cheekbones. I thought he was wonderful in the scene when his brother tried to kill himself, and also when he was crying by his brother's hospital bed. He was also marvelous in all his fighting scenes – his moves looked so real, and they were real, because Bi put in a lot of effort into training for this role. He never breaks out of character, and you never see even a single shade of the adorable Lee Young-Jae from Full House(his smash hit drama)...he maintains this tough, dark façade capably throughout the whole show. Admittedly, he doesn't emote as heartrendingly as Kwon Sang-Woo or as movingly as Bae Yong Jun, but he is a capable actor in his own right.Shin Min Ah is beautiful. She manages to glowwhenever she is with Bok-Goo, and she has an adorably sweet smile that she reserves only for him. It is this glow which is striking: she knows how to turn it "on" and "off" so appropriately that you really believe she is in love with Bok-Goo. When she is pale and serious, the stillness of her face and the tiredness of her eyes attest to her potential as an actress. And, of course, like any other good Korean actress, she can cry really prettily and genuinely, without (I can never figure out how they do this) looking ugly.

Script: So, this isn't an entirely original idea. Revenge, and falling in love with the person one is supposed to hate. I've gotten used to being moved by original and beautifully poetic lines in Korean dramas, so the lack of such lines in this drama was a bit disappointing. I also felt that the scriptwriter did not give enough time to develop the relationship between Bok-Goo and Eun-Suk – more time should have been spent on justifying to the viewer that Eun-Suk fell in love with Bok-Goo not because of his older brother, but because of Bok-Goo himself. He does save her life three times – and in very dramatic fashion – so that could account for why she fell in love so quickly with him, but too much focus was placed on how he replicated Min-Goo's ways of wooing her. In short, I feel that they didn't spend enough time together, especially towards the end. Bok-Goo's premise for not being able to be with Eun-Suk was also not very clear: is it guilt, or loyalty, or a desire to protect her? What I *did* like about the script, though, was the insertion of the element of "connection" between Bok-Goo and Eun-Suk. There is almost a spiritual, inexplicable link between the two, who can sometimes sense each other crying, or speaking, and who can be far away, and yet beside each other. This is shown in the lovely scene in the first episode when Bok-Goo jumps into a river to save a girl, and Eun-Suk, miles away, walks into the sea...on land, they are apart, but underwater, they are swimming together. Additionally, the last scene was a wonderful protrayal of this bond.

Conclusion: Don't watch this show hoping for something in the style of Full House. The two dramas are vastly different. This plot isn't the best, but the cinematography, soundtrack, and acting more than make up for it. I find myself rewatching scenes just because they were so beautifully shot! Take note especially of the scene where Bok-Goo is beaten up in the rain, as well as the scene where Eun-Suk sees him for the first time, as well as the scenes when Bok-Goo saves her, as well as the scene where he holds her in front of the car...there are many, many beautiful scenes that should not be missed.

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