Director: Richard H. Kim
Writer: Richard H. Kim
Producer: Bobby Kim
Cast: Bobby Kim, Michael Parker, H. Wayne Lowry, Marlena Shapiro, Michael Ford, Clif Willis, George W. Byers, Sheila Ivy Traister, Marty Bechina, Tony Carpenter
Running Time: 93 min.
By Paul Bramhall
In the 1980’s there was a sort of mini-wave of Korean directors who immigrated to the States. Park Woo-sang, the man behind such old school flicks like Shaolin: The Blood Mission, made the move and starting working under the name of Richard Park, making complete trash like L.A. Streetfighters, Miami Connection, and American Chinatown. Lee Doo-yong, who directed everything from Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave, to influential classics such as The Last Witness, also made the move, and went on to direct such questionable efforts as the Linda Blair starring Silent Assassins.
Bobby Kim, while not a director, is a Taekwondo grandmaster and had briefly enjoyed a spell as an action star in Korea. Bearing a striking resemblance to Charles Bronson, he quickly got dubbed as the Asian version of the Death Wish star. Active just for a few years between 1975 – 1979, he cranked out a total of 9 movies, some of which even got picked up by the infamous IFD Films for international distribution, such as Mad for Vengeance. Then he moved to Colorado, where he settled and opened up a Taekwondo school, while still finding the time to occasionally make a movie.
Perhaps his most famous movie outside of his Korean work is Manchurian Avenger, an East meets West western which had Kim facing off against Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace. Made in 1985, it was the same year that Wallace would also face off against Jackie Chan in The Protector, and it makes for an interesting comparison to watch the fight scenes of both movies side by side. In Manchurian Avenger Kim plays a character called Joe, who returns to Colorado (very convenient) after a long absence. Four years later, in 1989 Kim would star in Kill Line, a movie in which he plays a character called Joe, who returns to Colorado after a long absence. There’s definitely something going on here.
While Kill Line was completed in 1989, it wouldn’t be released until a couple of years later. Kim is actually listed twice in the credits under different names – in the cast list he’s credited as Bobby Kim, however he’s also the producer, against which he’s listed as Robert H. Kim. To make things a little more confusing, the movie is written and directed by Richard H. Kim. Kill Line is literally the only movie credited to the mysterious Richard H. Kim, no matter how hard you scour the internet, the guy is a 1-movie ghost. Is it another alias for Bobby Kim? It’s a question worth pondering, as if I was the director of Kill Line I’d probably want to change my name as well.
As previously mentioned, Bobby Kim returns to small town Colorado after a long absence, however once there he finds himself endlessly hassled and abused by the town sheriff. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen First Blood, Richard H. Kim definitely has. Bobby hasn’t returned from the Vietnam War though, he’s just wrapped up a 10 year prison sentence. It turns out he was present at the deathbed of a dying man, along with a vicar, the director of a charity organization, and a doctor. The dying man reveals he has 2 million dollars hidden in his house, and that it must go to the “Center for the Less Fortunate in New York”.
Of course, the characters greed gets in the way. Kim is entrusted with delivering the money which is packed into a briefcase, however he himself is no angel, and instead decides to give it to his hard up brother. When the brother refuses to take it, he throws the briefcase off the table causing it to break open, which reveals that there’s nothing inside except torn up newspaper. As the camera focuses in on the newspaper strewn across the floor, we hear a judge deliver in voiceover that Kim has been sentenced to 10 years in prison. What exactly is he guilty of? Well, that’s never explained, but perhaps in Colorado carrying around torn up newspaper in a briefcase is considered a serious crime.
Kill Line has so many mistakes in it that, if you were to play a drinking game, you’d be drunk within the first 15 minutes. The quivering shadow of a boom mic is in plain sight on the side of a van two characters are talking next to, a dialing tone is used as a phone ringing, and there are bizarre nonsensical lines like, “I’m going to ask you one last time, you’re not going to send this money back!” So, what’s the question!? There’s also a pursuit at night involving a car, in which you can see literally nothing except the cars headlights, and in a latter chase scene a car flies off the road into a lake, however the cameraman misses the shot, so the actual impact happens just off-screen.
It quickly becomes apparent that Kill Line was a one take only production, and it hurts it beyond redemption. The brightest part is actually a pre-credit sequence, which sees the family of Bobby’s brother shot to death inside their own home. There’s a machine gun and a shotgun involved, however once the characters start firing them it looks more like the guns are in control of the actors, as they struggle to control where they’re firing. It’s supposed to be a harrowing scene, but the amateur nature of it makes it laughable.
Special mention also has to go to a unique scene which makes a part of a bigger car chase sequence. In one part the sheriffs car is nudged, which sends it careening towards the windows of a car dealership. The camera then cuts to a shot taken from inside the dealership, which shows the car hurtling towards the window in slow motion. However before the impact, the camera suddenly cuts away again, this time back to the outside, and the car that was about to go smashing through the glass lightly drives into a wall instead. I was convinced it was because they couldn’t afford to break the glass, however hilariously, the sheriff then gets out, smashes one of the windows with his baton, before jumping into one of the dealership cars, and drives through the glass from inside the dealership. The whole scene doesn’t make a lick of sense.
It’s a shame, because Bobby Kim does have a certain amount of charisma. His character is the type of guy who calmly smokes a cigarette while knocking back glasses of Jack Daniels, and he has that kind of cool exterior that you know hides something more, the kind that Steven Seagal had in his early movies. There’s even a fight in a billiards bar, in a scene that Seagal would go on to perfect in Out for Justice, released the same year.
Despite what Kim has to go up against though, what minimal fight action there is in Kill Line is of a very poor quality. The fact that he’s the only martial artist in the cast no doubt has a lot to do with it, but even that can’t forgive the limp wristed nature of them. There’s a real sense of being careful not to hit anyone for real, with punches and kicks thrown at the speed of a snail. Often there’s a visible hesitation before throwing them, and it’s all shot in such a way that nobody comes out looking good.
While Bobby Kim can never be considered to be in the same screen fighting league as his Korean peers like Hwang Jang Lee and Casanova Wong, Kill Line is definitely not representative of what he can do. To appreciate him in action the way he should be seen, it probably goes without saying that it’s best to stick to his 70’s Korean output. For Kill Line though, I’ll end this review in the style that the movie is written, and that’s by asking you a question – don’t bother watching this movie.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 3.5/10