‘A Killer Paradox’ series review: Bloody K-drama thriller wastes its potential to be a compelling character study

‘A Killer Paradox,’ as a product of smart writing, supported by some stellar performances, emerges as slightly disturbing yet deeply intriguing watch

February 24, 2024 01:19 pm | Updated 01:19 pm IST

A still from ‘A Killer Paradox’ 

A still from ‘A Killer Paradox’ 

Webtoons have emerged as a goldmine for the South Korean media industry, which is now increasingly looking to adapt already successful stories. While genres such as romance were the expected first choices to be translated to Netflix screens, the more grittier, bloodier stories have also found a willing audience. Netflix’s latest, A Killer Paradox, is one such example. Though it delivers on its promise of a slightly uncomfortable thriller, the limited runtime proves to be a hurdle for character development.

A Killer Paradox’s director, Lee Chang-hee, is no stranger to darker subject matter, considering his previous work on Hell Is Other People (2019), but this time he infuses a slightly comedic tone to the whole business of killing. Lee Tang (Choi Woo-shik), a down-on-his-luck college student can’t seem to figure out his purpose in life, and the closest he gets to it is his desire to go see the Rocky Mountains in Canada. When returning home late at night from his part-time job at a convenience store, Tang finds himself embroiled in a dispute between some drunk men. The repeated blows to his face take Tang back to his school life where he faced similar bullying. Whether it is the pent-up frustration or just survival instinct, something makes a switch go off in Tang’s head and he delivers the final blow to his perpetrator. Initially fraught with guilt over the fact that he ended up killing someone, Tang’s behaviour changes when the news reveals that the dead person was in fact a serial killer in hiding. What ensues is a spree of killings, spurred by Tang’s compulsions or his “power” as he calls it, which leaves behind a list of dead people who all turn out to be social pests. 

A Killer Paradox (Korean)
Director: Lee Chang-hee
Cast: Choi Woo-shik, Son Suk-ku, Lee Hee-joon, and others
Episodes: 8
Runtime: 45 to 50 minutes
Storyline: When a college student accidentally ends up killing criminals, he decides to harness his power for some vigilante justice

Son Suk-ku as the bored, seen-it-all detective Jang Nan-gam soon gets on Tang’s bloody trail, but has a difficult time catching him; as luck would have it, the same cosmic intervention that allows him to only kill bad people, also ends up erasing any evidence. 

This slow cat-and-mouse chase between Nan-gam and Tang provides the primary strand of tension for the show. While slick in its action sequences, and shocking when it comes to the murders, A Killer Paradox’s best writing unfolds when the characters are alone. Chang-hee’s direction specifically has a unique and unsettling way of getting into the character’s mind, or exploring his thoughts without making it seem cliche, also using flashbacks without making them feel tedious. The ‘paradox’ often becomes the most interesting character in the show. As Tang, Choi Woo-shik, who gained fame for his character in Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019), is adept at containing multiple conflicting emotions. While distraught over his actions, Woo-shik seamlessly transitions Tang to embody a messiah-like confidence while always letting his guilt simmer just below the surface. 

However, in its eight episode run, A Killer Paradox’s intentions to delve into the background of other vigilante killers such as Tang — and letting this also play out as a mystery for the audience — distracts us from a compelling character study. While taking interesting detours from the main plot, the show struggles to balance an excess of ambitious ideas. 

But overall, A Killer Paradox, as a product of smart writing and supported by some stellar performances, emerges as a slightly disturbing yet deeply intriguing watch.

A Killer Paradox is currently available for streaming on Netflix

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