Girl K got off to a strong start with its action-and-combat-filled first episode, but it gets even better with Episode 2. It was promising right off the bat with its solid acting, strong cinematography, moody ambiance, and fresh action scenes. Each element on its own isn’t terribly new — it borrows quite heavily from other pop-culture properties, in fact — but put together, it makes for quite an entertaining, suspense-filled ride.
On top of that, this episode introduces a new element: The Cute! Oh, the adolescent budding romance. It’s adorable and fun, and such an interesting juxtaposition next to all the blood and guts. Yeon-jin may be a killer, but she’s also a teenage girl who isn’t immune to a little crush now and then.
SONG OF THE DAY
Beige – “일기” (Diary) [ Download ]
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Mom dies by Jang Se-wook’s sword, and a bruised and battered Yeon-jin fades into unconsciousness at the feet of Manager Min.
Two years later.
Yeon-jin is now 19, which should put her in her last year of high school. She’s also highly trained in hardcore artillery, and positions her sniper rifle on the rooftop of a building.
She trains her sights on the wedding party nearby, finding Manager Min in her scope…but it’s not her she’s after. Manager Min — whose full name is Min Ji-young — speaks to her over her hidden wire, pointing out the target in the yellow bowtie.
Chairman Kwon, head of shadow organization SS1, joins the proceedings and shakes the target’s hand. They keep smiling but Chairman Kwon leans in to deliver an ominous warning about returning things that ought to be returned. Mr. Bowtie makes lame excuses about the things that happen when conducting business, but Chairman Kwon isn’t satisfied with that.
Ji-young gives Yeon-jin the word, telling her, “You’ll be fine if you do this just like in training,” tipping us off that she’s still green to this assassin’s lifestyle. Ji-young adds the reminder to think of the target as the thing she most hates — so Yeon-jin pictures Jang Se-wook’s face superimposed over her target’s.
A complication surfaces when Mr. Bowtie picks up his granddaughter, obscuring the shot. They’re assassins but they aren’t in the business of killing innocents if they can help it, so Yeon-jin is told to stand down, but she’s only got 30 seconds left before her special bullet melts. Ji-young can’t take the risk so she orders retreat, but a frustrated Yeon-jin changes her position instead, takes aim in seconds, and shoots him square in the back of the skull.
Mirae Corporation. This is Chairman Kwon’s bio-medical research company, which is also a front for SS1, where Yeon-jin is hooked up and treated. We’re in a flashback to two years ago, and Ji-young tells her that she is essentially dead, but they can revive her. If, that is, she works for them. Otherwise, she’ll die.
Presented with that Nikita-esque ultimatum, she chooses life, and thus begins her training. She excels in the following two years, and Ji-young is pleased with how fast she catches on.
Ji-young reminds Yeon-jin not to forget how important she’ll be to them, and the value of her work. Yeon-jin operates on one sole motivator, and she checks again that Ji-young will keep the company’s promise to find Jang Se-wook for her. Ji-young assures her not to worry on that score, because their former operative is on their shit list, too.
They clash blades in an all-out training session, Ji-young impressed at Yeon-jin’s improved skills, and come to an impasse. Marking the end of the session, Ji-young reminds her to go to school, and Yeon-jin wails, “Just kill me now!”
She’s an outcast here, too, as we see in gym class. The kids mostly half-ass (or, let’s face it, quarter-ass) their way through the vault hop exercise, although there’s one kid who puts some ‘zazz into it: Go Young-min, the cute popular boy who sends Yeon-jin a bright smile and is totally showing off for her benefit (played by ZE:A idol boy Kim Dong-joon). She looks away shyly, trying not to show her interest.
A group of girls picks a fight, insulted that Yeon-jin’s the only student who didn’t do the exercise. She goes by a new name now, Kim So-yeon, and contrary to her last school experience, here she’s disliked because she’s given special treatment. She can thank her SS1 connections for that. Also contrary to her previous experience, she deflects the girls calmly without getting angry.
Ji-young sends her a terse text directing her to the rooftop — it’s a mission, and she’s just been activated. A teacher/SS1 operative surreptitiously hands her the key, and she makes it to the roof and locks the door behind her, then retrieves the rifle case that’s been packed with an earpiece. A scan of the area yields a few potential targets, and Ji-young tells her via earpiece to await further instructions until they confirm the identity.
Young-min has seen Yeon-jin dashing off and follows her curiously, knocking on the locked roof door. The thing is, he’s seen the trio of girls grumbling about her, so he’s worried she’s come to harm and knocks insistently, shouting her name. He must think she’s a suicide risk, because he urges her not to worry about those girls, as though to talk her down from the ledge. Not hearing a response, he finds the keys nearby and gets to work on the fussy lock, though he’s slowed by his own shaking hands.
Yeon-jin tries to block out Young-min’s shouts as she aims…but then, another person wanders into her sights, and she’s distracted at his resemblance to Jang Se-wook. She takes her eye off the other trio and loses not only sight of Potential Jang Se-wook but also her intended target, just as SS1 headquarters confirms the identity as the man in the hat, the principal who opposes Mirae’s research.
Yeon-jin’s given the order to fire, but she loses precious seconds relocating the group in her sights and shoots the wrong man, who goes down. Ji-young gives her the order to eliminate them all, now that they’ve been revealed, and Yeon-jin hurriedly takes down the other two. This requires some precarious positioning and re-aiming, showing us that Yeon-jin’s a crack shot even in unpredictable scenarios and can take down a moving target with only moments to aim.
All in all, this is a pretty fantastic sequence, layered with multiple conflicts, packed with tension. And you’ve gotta love the shot of the empty shells falling to the ground right by Yeon-jin’s pink sneakers.
Young-min finally unlocks the door and bursts onto the roof in a heroic blaze…of confusion, because he can’t see anything. Finally seeing her standing idly, totally calm and not suicidal, he fakes the excuse that he’s just up to grab some fresh air. Ha. You pretty, adorably misguided boy. Can’t a girl assassinate in peace?
Ji-young reports to Chairman Kwon, apologizing for the botched mission and the collateral damage. He tells her he trusts her to handle it and any possible complications. Ji-young says that Yeon-jin’s weakness is still Jang Se-wook, and he tells her to meet with him. So…they DO know where he is?
Chairman Kwon is in the news at the center of a debate, which pits the life-extending properties of a groundbreaking new technology against protests that it strips people of their dignity. Hmm, looks like Mirae Corp is a front that actually does stuff, in addition to sheltering SS1. This also explains their assassination targets, if they’re offing their staunchest opposition. Hm, you think nobody would catch on to that pattern?
Ji-young flashes back to the day she’d given Yeon-jin her live-or-die ultimatum, which even the Mirae scientists had felt reservations about. But she’d noted that Yeon-jin was needed by the chairman, and also the most suited for the work they’d have her do.
As for Jang Se-wook… looks like he’s not actually persona non grata with SS1, but rather bait used to hook Yeon-jin. Now that they’ve gotten her to work for them, with the promise of helping her find and kill Jang, Ji-young orders her people to hide him away, “So she can’t find him.”
Jang Se-wook is, at the moment, enjoying the sights at a topless bar. (I’ll say that the topless scenes aren’t exactly necessary to the show, but this is CGV, a movie cable channel, so think HBO or Showtime — you’re just going to have more explicit scenes, whether it be violence, language, or nudity. They do it because they can, and because prime-time network shows can’t. I figure it’s part of the package, so it doesn’t bother me.)
Ji-young finds him and warns him that he’s done enough rule-violating by coming out into the world, and it’s time to go back into hiding. He’s tired of being cooped up, and not even a bag full of dollars appeases him. He slams a glass into the tabletop, but in a flash, she grabs the broken shards and holds it up to his neck, ignoring her own bleeding hand. She warns him to stay put until he’s called, and he backs off.
The school’s crime scene teems with inspectors, including one familiar face, Detective Choi Tae-young, who’s eager to get on the case. He’s not actually assigned to it, and his boss orders him to come back, ignoring his protests that this smells of something fishy. But perhaps he’s actually improved his detecting skills in the last two years, because he looks up toward the source of the shot, and realizes there’s a vantage point nearby from one of the rooftops.
Yeon-jin asks her teacher/SS1 contact not to give her special treatment because it’s making her an outcast with the other kids, but she’s told that it’s to protect her health and safety. Gotta keep the special weapon in tip-top shape, after all. Yeon-jin asks about headquarters, but is told that that info could get her killed.
Tae-young snoops around the school building, and sees Yeon-jin talking to the teacher. Recognizing her with a jolt, he follows her and calls out her name — that is, her real name Yeon-jin, not the alias So-yeon.
She freezes, knowing this is bad news, but acts like she doesn’t know what he’s talking about as he babbles about the Jang Se-wook case. Her teacher steps in and sends her along to class, deflecting Tae-young’s questions.
Not deterred, Tae-young digs in her school records and finds that her alias checks out, all the way down to her fabricated parental identities. (Her record reveals a frequent player in identity laundering, U.S. schooling, which includes a Chicago middle school and Glendale High School.)
The SS1 teacher nervously asks why he’s interested in So-yeon, and refuses to give contact information of So-yeon’s guardian, Min Ji-young.
Yeon-jin tells Ji-young about being recognized by the detective, and is warned to be careful. Ji-young gives her a gift, which turns out to be the metal chain her friends had given her two years ago. Then, Ji-young ushers her onward to be briefed on a new mission.
In a hotel suite, a nervous scientist, a certain Dr. Choi formerly of Mirae’s laboratories, requests a meeting with a congressman. He anxiously starts to speak, but the electricity cuts out. The politician assures him not to worry since all his Secret Service agents all hail from the special forces, but we soon see that SS1 is at work here. Secret Service, psh.
Yeon-jin is deployed, dressed as a hospitality staffer, and enters the suite after a patdown and an explanation that she’s here to work on the electricity problem.
She places tiny bugs around the room as Dr. Choi insists that Mirae keeps performing these odd tests on young women — which explains the creepy Thai lab in Episode 1 — but the congressman demands evidence. The lights flick back on and Yeon-jin leaves, while Ji-young listens in to the rest of the congressman’s comments on Mirae’s shady dealings.
Sung-ho visits the twin graves of Yeon-jin and her mother, just as Tae-young arrives. Almost immediately, back at SS1 headquarters Ji-young gets word that Sung-ho has been found, and gives the order that that both men be eliminated.
Tae-young recognizes Sung-ho from two years ago and asks what his relation to the ladies is. Sung-ho’s dismissive, until Tae-young tells him that he saw Yeon-jin, alive and well. Suddenly, Sung-ho’s on high alert, and his eyes take in the various workers nearby — digging graves, tending the grass — and his super-spy skills warn him of danger.
Dropping his voice, Sung-ho tells Tae-young what’s up and instructs him to follow his directions, which allows them to duck in time to avoid getting their guts shot out by a barrage of semi-automatic firepower.
They race down the mountainside, followed by the three armed agents. Sung-ho arms himself with a stick, while Tae-young chooses a blanket of leaves for cover. Once a wimp…
One agent finds Tae-young hiding, but he’s actually saved by her own teammate’s gunfire, which distracts her. Tae-young knocks her gun away, while Sung-ho stabs Agent No. 2 from behind. Sung-ho gets shot in the arm, but is able to kill all three agents in time to save Tae-young.
Ji-young’s voice comes on over the transmitter carried by her agent, and Sung-ho picks it up, recognizing her right away and talking to her familiarly. She warns that she’ll send better agents next time, but he tells her not to bother: “I’ll call you.” With that, he shoots the comm, sending a sharp shock to her ears, and she screams in frustration.
Tae-young urges Sung-ho to a hospital, but he refuses so he sneaks him into a cheap motel room. A stone-faced Sung-ho takes the bullet out of his own arm with only liquor and a motherfucking wine cork as tools. Badass ajusshi is badass.
Sung-ho warns Tae-young that he’s in danger from SS1 now, but before he can explain, they’re interrupted by a horny couple eager to get it on. Luckily, the couple is so distracted that they don’t notice the two very conspicuous strange men in their room, even when one of them is poorly concealed and hanging out right in front of them. With some timing and some luck, Sung-ho and Tae-young are able to sneak out of the room undetected.
In the school computer lab that night, Yeon-jin reads up on the man she killed. A shadowy figure creeps along the ground, adorably inept at this whole concealment business. Rolling her eyes at the poor display of stealth, Yeon-jin calls Young-min out on his lack of hiding skills.
Striking up conversation, Young-min invites her to join his photography club, and she asks plainly, “Do you hit on all the girls this way?” Like a cute little puppy dog, he smiles bashfully and admits, “Busted.”
Sung-ho and Tae-young relocate to his hideout, where we see the news clippings about Chairman Kwon, Mirae, and shootings that Sung-ho has been amassing over the last two years. Or perhaps even longer.
Sung-ho tells him that Yeon-jin’s survival indicates SS1 is still around. He also supposes that they’ve purposely hidden Jang Se-wook away, because he knows Jang would mess with their hold on Yeon-jin, surprising Tae-young with his keen insight on the workings of the organization. Sung-ho says with grim determination that Yeon-jin can’t stay there, because it’ll end in her death.
Yeon-jin sidles into the communications room of SS1, and asks the tech specialist what he’s doing with a bunch of locator software. Could she find somebody too, hypothetically speaking? The techie boasts about the highly effective program, then wanders off for a break, which allows Yeon-jin to take his seat. Working quickly, she uses the techie’s keycard for access privileges and pulls up info. Scrolling through the targets, she recognizes the two she has killed, while two others are still alive (they happen to be the congressman and ex-Mirae scientist Dr. Choi).
Target No. 5 is Jang Se-wook and requires a password. She tries a few, which are denied, but she’s able to see that SS1 has a tracker on him. The device beeps, and Yeon-jin swipes that and the techie’s passcard, which she uses to gain entry to an adjacent area marked restricted access. Inside the empty, creepy looking lab are lots of upright slabs that look designed for holding human bodies in place.
She hides when two people enter the room: Chairman Kwon and the teacher, who mentions needing to find a target.
Yeon-jin realizes she’s missing a large piece of the bigger picture, and throws herself into training with a vengeance as she relives the moment of her mother’s death. She’s even more determined than ever to kill jang Se-wook. In her stark white quarters, she looks through the photos in her keepsake box, missing Mom.
The tracker device starts beeping one day as Yeon-jin is outside Mirae’s building, and she follows the little indicator inside — at which point she hears Jang Se-wook’s voice behind her in the hallway. He’s walking with two minions, as free as you please.
Yeon-jin races after him but the elevator doors close on her, so she takes the stairs down to the parking garage and sees his car squealing away. She follows on foot, but loses the car.
Furious, she storms into SS1 headquarters and confronts Ji-young with the tracker, demanding to know why she knew they were harboring Jang Se-wook and didn’t tell her. Ji-young tries to placate her, but Yeon-jin grabs Ji-young’s gun and levels it at her. The other operatives draw their weapons, but Ji-young waves them back and tells Yeon-jin that they should talk, calmly.
Yeon-jin shakes with rage and asks how she could lie to her about this. Ji-young asks what she’d do after she killed him — then what? Yeon-jin says she doesn’t care, since all she wants is for him to die, and trembles: “I thought you would understand how I feel.”
She lowers the gun, then falls to the floor. She asks to be taken to Jang Se-wook, sobbing.
Ji-young drives them to their destination, what looks like an abandoned industrial plant of some sort. Upon arriving, Ji-young hands Yeon-jin her gun, which goes ignored.
The reason becomes clear as Yeon-jin enters the building and appears in front of a group of minions: She’s got her trusty swords, and is ever so efficient with them. She charges, cutting down each man in an amusing fountain of Kill Bill-esque blood spray.
Onward and upward. Next are two younger, swifter, better trained fighters, both wielding swords of their own. One manages to slash her once in the back, but she comes back fighting, juggling Black and White with skill. She injures both, runs away, and then uses that opportunity to sneak-ambush them from behind.
They all land some more blows, but it’s White who gets the fatal stab first. That enrages Black, who goes after her with more power, but not necessarily skill; Yeon-jin gets him in the gut not once, or twice, but stabs him repeatedly with alternating blades, getting thoroughly spattered in his blood. Yick.
Deciding she’d like his longer sword for the next confrontation, Yeon-jin sheathes her twin blades and picks up Black’s.
Jang Se-wook is, predictably, reading Scripture in his inner sanctum. He becomes aware of the intruder, then looks upon Yeon-jin with shock and maybe a little fear: “But…you died. I killed you.” He starts to ask, “Who saved y—” before cutting himself off, because there can only be one answer to that, and it’s not his beloved God.
Yeon-jin: “Long time no see. I’ve been waiting for the day I’d see you again.”
He asks nervously, “You killed all my boys? By yourself? All of them?”
That taps into his anger, and he figures he’s only got one life anyway, and reaches for a hidden weapon. Yeon-jin flings her sword at him, which he dodges, and he swings out his semi-automatic and starts shooting. She runs for cover as he just fires indiscriminately at random shadows.
He follows Yeon-jin through the factory, seeing her streak by in swift little glimpses, at one point coming face to face with her but shooting too late before she’s off again. But when he looks down, he belatedly realizes she’s thrust her sword through his thigh, which he wrests out with brutal force.
He comes after her, enraged now, but still too slow; she sneaks up from behind, sinks her other blade into his back, and dashes off. Jang Se-wook screams and whirls, firing his gun in the air wildly, trying to reach the sword to pull it out.
He actually manages to pull the sword out of his back with macabre determination, and staggers around spouting religious words. He’s all out of ammo, so he returns to home base for a new clip, reloading his gun while screaming Gospel.
Yeon-jin sneaks up behind him with her metal chain, and loops it around his neck. Now she grabs the sword she’d thrown at Jang, and plunges it clear through him — how fitting he should die in the same manner that he killed Mom.
With a gurgle, he falls forward, prone. The energy seems to sap out of her immediately as she stands there, almost lost.
He dies, and Yeon-jin cries. What next, indeed?
Ji-young waits outside and watches as a garage door cranks upward, revealing a bloody Yeon-jin, who steps forward numbly, into the light.
I’m intrigued that they had Yeon-jin achieve her revenge so quickly, because that leaves a full third of the show/movie to go with our heroine out of a motivating force. At least for the immediate aftermath of the fight. Not that she’s run her course as a character, because the question of “What next?” is even more compelling, I find, than the question of whether she’d achieve her revenge or how that would come about. We pretty much figured that would happen; it’s the stuff afterward that is fresher narrative territory.
What do you do once you’re this highly trained killer with your whole life ahead of you, only it’s not really yours to live? What happens when you’ve sold your soul (or autonomy, at least) to the devil for one thing, and you achieve that one thing? Yeon-jin didn’t really care about life outside of avenging her mother, but she realizes pretty quickly that things feel pretty empty now without an enemy. Although she’s already starting to see signs that there’s an even greater enemy at play.
The final episode will give us a chance to see (I presume) the role of SS1 in her mother’s life, and Sung-ho’s, and why they’re so damn desperate to own Yeon-jin, specifically. There are lots of other girls they could foster and raise as killing machines, aren’t there? So why is it so important that they have her? Did they do something to her as a baby, which is why Sung-ho insisted that Mom run away?
Although I liked the first episode, this is the one that really showed the potential for Girl K to be a bigger thing, whether series, franchise, feature film, whatever. Frankly I think a full drama would be perfect, and I’m bummed even more than ever that this is so short.
For instance, the school scenes. SO short, but already rich with so many possible storylines and relationship arcs. Those aren’t just related to Young-min, although I find his character so cute and endearing that I’d love to see more of these two kids together as well. Not only is the teenage puppy love angle adorable, but it also raises some interesting questions in its juxtaposition with Yeon-jin’s other life. The innocence of their (all-too-brief) encounters feels sweet and genuine, but then you have her going off and shooting people. How to reconcile?
There was a similar secret-identity dynamic in play with Buffy, as she fought baddies and went to school and fell in love, but we always knew she was on the side of light fighting dark. This show pushes that way darker, because Yeon-jin, our resident Girl Killer, lives in much murkier waters. She kills on command without a whole lot of thought on the morality of it all — because she’s long since traded her life for, ironically, her life (the physical aspect of it, at least). When Evil owns you quite literally, body and soul, how can you break free, or claim yourself?
So yes, I wanted more of the school life…but not at the expense of the fighting, the missions, or SS1. I want more of all that, too. So I guess the clear answer is just…MORE.