A Shop for Killers: A Character-Driven, Action-Packed Series

A Shop for Killers: A Character-Driven, Action-Packed Series

©A Shop for Killers

A chance encounter can at times be both the best and most traumatic twist of fate in a person’s life. That’s certainly true for actress Kim Hye-jun‘s protagonist of Jeong Ji-an in the new South Korean action television series, A Shop for Killers. Throughout the drama’s first season, its main character, a young university student, finally begins to find solace as she starts her life over. However, her existence is suddenly upended once again by another shocking family tragedy.

A Shop For Killers is based on the popular original novel The Killer’s Shopping Mall by Kang Jiyoung. The screen adaptation was written by Ji Hojin and Lee Kwon, the latter of whom also served as the mystery thriller’s director.

Set in modern-day Korea, A Shop for Killers follows Ji-an (Hye-jun) as she’s forced to dive for cover in her childhood home after she captures the attention of a series of highly skilled assassins. Desperately fighting to survive, Ji-an begin to remember invaluable lessons her uncle, Jin-man (Lee Dong-wook), taught her before his apparent suicide. So she begins to draw on them to help her survive.

Confused and cornered, Ji-an will have to work fast to uncover her uncle’s hidden past. She must use the knowledge she uncovers about her uncle to figure out why so many people are desperate to gain access to their house and the extensive arsenal he kept hidden inside.

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©A Shop for Killers

The series’ first season fully immerses viewers into the all-day and -night siege of Jin-man’s house and the secret bunker that Ji-an is unaware lies beneath it. The battle introduces an expansive, diverse group of villains who are determined to end her life, just like her uncle, who the police insist committed suicide.

The seemingly unprovoked attack is interwoven with flashbacks to Ji-an’s childhood that provide explanation into what led to the battle. Those memories are vital in developing the characters’ arcs by subtly revealing Ji-man and Ji-an’s motivations and emotions through each other’s perspectives.

The flashbacks are also cleverly interwoven with the testimonials of others who knew Ji-man when Ji-an battles her fears to his funeral proceedings. The narratives from the attendants describe the protagonist’s uncle as an empathetic and protective man, which also surround him in an air of mystery. It becomes clear to her that there is more to her uncle than she realized, which makes her question all she thinks she knows about him.

Hye-jun and the two young actresses who play Ji-an at earlier points in her life – Ahn Se-bin as a child and Cho Si-yeon as a young teen – give A Shop for Killers‘ true standout performances. The three actresses add an emotional intelligence and understanding to their portrayals of a young girl who’s traumatized by the deaths of her parents and the reemergence of her estranged uncle in her life.

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©A Shop for Killers

Along with Dong-wook, the actresses highlight how the characters’ shared struggle ultimately bonds them over time. That connection is amplified when Jin-man repeatedly saves his niece from death and danger from an early age in her life. While Ji-man strives to protect Ji-an, at least physically, their characters’ similar way of internalizing trauma adds a complicated layer to their relationship and personalities.

While Hye-jun effortlessly emphasizes her protagonist’s endless grief throughout her difficult upbringing, Dong-wook also excels in highlighting the character’s brooding demeanor. The actor enthrallingly plays a guardian who is overprotective of the child he’s raising. But he’s also surprisingly aloof at times, and seemingly eager to force Ji-an to become independent at a young age.

Through its compelling dual timelines that are featured throughout its entire fire season, A Shop for Killers thrives on showing the unusual emotional arrangement between the two lead characters. Ji-an and Jin-man are so headstrong that they have had difficulty communicating their feelings. Once they allow themselves to accept the pain the other one is experience, they build a relationship that’s based on mutual respect together.

A Shop for Killers doesn’t present a conventional family dynamic, particularly the morbid circumstances of Jin-man’s secret life as a mercenary, and Ji-an’s traumatic experience of losing her parents at a young age. But their unique bond gives the drama is a powerfully tragic undertone, especially since Ji-an never knew what her uncle was protecting her from.

One of the most emotionally satisfying revelations in the season is when Ji-an, with the help of her former classmate Bae Jeong-min (Park Ji-bin), uncovers the mysterious website where Ji-man sold guns to the assassins who are targeting her. After their discovery, she begins to question her uncle’s real identity and the circumstances surrounding his death.

A Shop for Killers thrives on building the mystery and suspense of its full-fledged characters and the hyperreal, slow-burn pacing of its gripping narrative structure. Hye-jun most notably shines as the show’s protagonist, as she highlights Ji-an’s ability to finally combat her trauma while she strives to protect herself from the assassins.

The thriller’s suspenseful first season is a stellar television adaptation of The Killer’s Shopping Mall that rivals the emotionally-driven, action-packed character development featured in the John Wick film series. The show’s ever-growing intensity not only helps fuel the debut season’s overall arc, but also sets up intriguing mysteries that can be continued in an anticipated sophomore season.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

All eight episodes of A Shop for Killers‘ first season are now streaming in the U.S. on Hulu.

Here’s the trailer of the series.

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