There will be spoilers for the manhwa series Killing Stalking.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to murder, death, incest, stalking, blood, gore, violence, torture, sexual assault, rape, abuse, PTSD, homomisia, confinement, breaking and entering, mental illness, bullying, manipulation, ableism (including use of r-slur), forced cross-dressing, cheating, corruption, Stockholm syndrome, theft, being orphaned, self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide, victim-blaming, child abuse, poisoning, excessive drinking, attempted filicide, fat-shaming, age gap, social gap, and mentions of abortion, as it appears in the manhwa.
Yoon Bum is a loner, but he doesn't want to be. Bum longs for companionship, but not just with anyone. He longs for no one other than Oh Sangwoo. Bum has been quietly stalking Sangwoo since meeting him during conscription after Sangwoo rescued him from an assault by his platoon leader. After figuring out where he lives, Bum discovers the numbers of Sangwoo's door lock and lists out every possible combination, which he decides to try so he can gain access to Sangwoo's house. Unfortunately, at the end of the list, a cop car pulls up and begins questioning why he is there. Bum is in a panic but is able to say he's Sangwoo's cousin before getting the code right and slipping inside.
While Bum sees this as a victory, he doesn't realize that the cops he spoke to know Sangwoo, and they end up telling him about the run-in with his “cousin,” prompting him to return home while Bum is lurking about. But having a stranger in his home isn't the main reason Sangwoo is in a rush to get back. While Bum is snooping about, he discovers a basement door in the floor with a lock on it. Once he opens it and heads down, Bum discovers a woman, bound and beaten. Bum tries to help her, but before he can get her free, Sangwoo finds him, knocking Bum out with a baseball bat.
Bum is now Sangwoo's newest victim. Can Bum survive this encounter? But more importantly, can he make Sangwoo love him as much as he loves him?
I wouldn't call this artwork pretty. The more feminine or younger faces are very round and plump, which isn't my favorite, but while it isn't my preference, it is ideal for the narrative. The style is very expressive, and the round pudginess really lends itself well to the looks of horror often depicted on them. On the other hand, the more chiseled and angular facial structures work really well for the aloof expressions and, more importantly, the expressions of rage. You can feel every iota of what everyone is feeling, and there is no question of when characters experience fear, pain, lust, longing, etc. It's palpable, which makes for a very powerful series. It's clear that Sangwoo is one who rages and invokes fear, while Bum is the one who fears and longs.
Once again, we are presented with one of my favorite narrative elements: parallels. If you loved the reflections of the characters and their experiences in The Warehouse, you'll love this. It's much more subtle in this particular series but equally as powerful. From the very beginning, Sangwoo is the one with all the power and control. He leverages Bum's adoration and lust for him to keep him imprisoned, but then we steadily see a shift, both in their physical power difference and emotional power. Sangwoo begins showing Bum immense amounts of affection, a desperate attempt to keep Bum close to him. We also see Sangwoo with a foot injury that prevents him from catching Bum, much like how Sangwoo injured Bum to keep him from being able to escape. It's a harrowing power shift that is entirely Sangwoo's doing as the situation spirals out of his control.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention my distaste for this being categorized as BL. As I've mentioned in almost every other review of a work like this, BL suggests romance. While Bum (and perhaps even Sangwoo towards the end) might be under the illusion that their relationship is based on romance, it is far from that. Once again, I totally understand that BL is used here simply because this is a relationship between two men. It just doesn't feel accurate. I wish a more general term could encompass physical relationships between men that might not be based on love or romance, but here we are. Some people might argue that this is BL since Bum is hopelessly devoted to Sangwoo despite Sangwoo being a torturer and murderer, and towards the end, Sangwoo even seems to dote on Bum. However, Sangwoo's sexual and romantic affection appears to be for his dead mother rather than Bum, and Bum's devotion is swayed by his fear of Sangwoo, indicating that somewhere, deep down, Bum knows Sangwoo is too dangerous to love. Bum's need to be near Sangwoo despite his fear is more of an addiction than love. It's a horrific relationship between two people, held together by trauma and addiction, not love.
Still, I do like how this false sense of love ties these two together, culminating in one of the best endings I've seen in a horror BL to date. It's another awesome parallel, which I'm always going to love, but rather than being a reflection between Bum and Sangwoo, it's a reflection of the beginning in the end. Sangwoo has always been just out of Bum's reach, leaving Bum to always chase after him even while being imprisoned by Sangwoo. This whole relationship started with Bum stalking Sangwoo and Sangwoo killing person after person. Then, in the end, Sangwoo ends up being maimed after trying to kill again, then ironically murdered by an older woman who was trying to silence his cries in the hospital. Bum, on the other hand, ends up dying too, chasing after an imagined Sangwoo, stalking his mirage across a road where he is presumably hit by a car. What defined their lives and relationship ultimately led to their deaths: killing and stalking. If that's not powerful, I don't know what is.
This is a powerful piece. I wouldn't call it a favorite, but it's pretty high up there. It's not a romance, so if you're looking for romance, even a dark one, this is the wrong place. However, for a smutty, gory, psychological thriller and horror, this is a huge win. It's not sexy by any means, so don't think smut equals sexy, but it's interesting all the same. I recommend it.
Have you read Killing Stalking? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!