Before we begin, it should be noted that the Image release of Killing Machine has nothing to do with the Sonny Chiba film of the same name and is in fact a safer, abbreviated re-titling of a sixty-minute Korean film called Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine in Daehakroh. Odd that the 'Teenage Hooker' part of that equation is unacceptable but that 'Killing Machine' part is okay, but such is the society we live in and one can't really blame Image for wanting to get the disc into stores and on to the shelves – odds are good that had they used the complete title, that wouldn't have happened.
At any rate, this odd little film tells the story of a teenage girl (So-yun Lee) who works as a prostitute on the streets of a big city. Her teacher (Dae-tong Kim), of all people, picks her up one night and wouldn't you know it, he gets her pregnant. When he finds out what happened, he hires three assassins to take care of her. They kidnap her and chop her up, leaving her dismembered corpse alone. A mad scientist comes across her remains and rebuilds her as a cyborg and once she's been reborn, she goes out and gets her revenge.
Director Ki-woong Nam keeps things moving at a decent pace making the film's short one hour running time seem even shorter than it is. By keeping the story line simple, he's able to concentrate on the visuals at which point one can see the influence of filmmaker's like David Lynch and Shinya Tsukamoto. Think of this one as a low budget Robocop meets Frankenhooker with some cyber punk visuals, some unexpected Catholic imagery (there is one scene in particular where she's compared to the Virgin Mary), and a lot of strange camera work and you're on the right track. The film throws a bit of pathos into the mix by showing us the girl's reaction to her newly discovered condition. She decides that she's going to clean up her act and get off the streets so that she can be a good mother to her unborn child, making the impending murder all the more horrible than it already was. We also learn that she never charged the teacher for their little rendezvous because she was actually in love with him.
As one would probably expect from the plot synopsis, the film is rather twisted in spots. There's a fair bit of nudity that treads on dangerous ground (she is a high school student after all, though we never learn her actual age) as well as some explicit violence. There's plenty of obvious phallic symbolism towards the end of the film and a fair bit of gore in the film's two major set pieces. Underneath all of this, however, is a strange sense of black comedy. It's almost as if we're not supposed to know if Ki-woong Nam is playing this completely straight or if we're supposed to experience some nervous, uncomfortable laughter in a couple of spots. Unfortunately, there are a few too many scenes where we simply watch Korean schoolgirls wander around. These don't really add to the narrative at all and feel like padding, especially when you contrast these scenes to the rest of the film, which moves along at a very quick pace. These unnecessary and rather puzzling bits interrupt the narrative flow and will more than likely leave potential viewers scratching their heads wondering what the point is. With that said, however, Killing Machine has enough going for it and is just plain strange enough that fans of bizarre international cinema will want to give it a shot.
Image brings Killing Machine to DVD in a 2.00.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film was shot on digital video and there are some scenes that are soft and a few of the darker scenes look to have some mild compression artifacts present. Line shimmering is common though color reproduction doesn't look bad. Detail is usually fairly strong considering the source material though the aforementioned softer scenes aren't as revealing as some of the other moments in the movie. This isn't a very consistent picture, although in Image's defense most of the issues here appear to be source related rather than transfer related.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track presents the movie in its original Korean language with optional subtitles available in English only. As far as the quality of the mix goes, there's little to complain about here. While a 5.1 track would have been fun for some of the more intense scenes, there are some nice instances where the 2.0 channel separation kicks in and adds some atmosphere to the movie. The score and the dialogue are mixed in against the sound effects nicely and there were no obvious typographical errors in the English subtitles of note.
The main extra feature on this release is a short film from the same director entitled Kangchul. Presented in non-anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen and in Korean 2.0 Stereo without any English subtitles (????), this is a strange film that runs for twenty-nine minutes but, without any subs, is really difficult to describe. Let it suffice to say that a cyberpunk looking guy with a glove lies on the floor and talks to us for twenty minutes and then a girl in a see through mesh top collapses in her bus seat. Okay....
Aside from that, Image has also supplied a decent still gallery, some animated menus and chapter selection for the feature itself.
Killing Machine is a pretty strange film but it'll likely find an audience with those who appreciate black humor and unusual genre defying conventions. It's low budget and it suffers from many of the flaws that plague films made on the cheap, but there's a fun sense of chaos and anarchy behind the movie that makes it worth a look. Image's disc looks about as good as you could expect and the addition of the bonus short film is a nice touch. Recommended for those who know they like this type of thing, a solid rental for the curious.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.