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[Herald Review] ‘The Witch’ an interesting attempt, but clunky delivery

By Yoon Min-sik

  • Published : Jun 20, 2018 - 17:08
  • Updated : Jun 20, 2018 - 17:08

Park Hoon-jung is a great creator of stories. As a script writer, he has come up with compelling stories: of corruption in the justice system in “The Unjust”; of a man who became a monster to kill the monster in “I Saw the Devil”; and of a man’s struggle between his morality and friendship in a gangster world in “New World.”

But he is just not very gifted when it comes to storytelling. His latest work, “The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion,” falls flat on its attempt to depict the dilemma between innate evil and choosing to strive for more.

The movie kicks off with murals in ancient Egypt and documentary footage about human experiments, as if to blur the boundary between fiction and reality. It goes on to introduce Dr. Baek and Mr. Choi -- played by Jo Min-su and Park hee-soon, respectively -- who discuss a young runaway that they believe will soon perish.

The 7-year-old comes across an elderly couple who adopts her, and she grows up to be a high school girl, Ja-yun --played by Kim Da-mi -- a vivacious, kind-hearted and brilliant girl with a passion for music.

“The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion” (Warner Bros. Korea)

“The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion” (Warner Bros. Korea)

But she is pursued by a group of mercenaries led by Mr. Choi and another pack of youngsters led by the mysterious Gwi Gong-ja -- Choi Wook-shik -- and her everyday life is uprooted as the mystery of her past haunts her.

The film contrasts Gwi and Ja-yun who were both brought up in an environment that forced them to be ruthless killing machines. One succumbs to the violence and destructive nature that his creators forced on him, while the other opts for another path.

“I don’t know what you were born as, but I know we didn’t raise you that way,” says Ja-yun’s adoptive father, showing that through choice, she is able to overcome the limitations that her creators bestowed upon her.

While it is clear that the director wanted to make a thought-provoking piece, the end result just doesn’t live up to the hype.

Choi Woo-shik is well-known for his acting prowess in independent films, but his performance in big-budget commercial films just keeps on falling flat.

Cho has proven time and again to be a great actress that commands center stage, but her portrayal of a baddie comes off as more comical than menacing.

The movie has the obligatory airhead best friend, who is supposed to be charming but comes off as annoying. She starts jabbering away as soon as she appears on screen, which could be cute if the movie established a solid relationship between the two.

But the only proof of connection they have is Ja-yun saying that they are best friends. It is only close to the third act that they show any kind of chemistry.

That’s the biggest problem of the movie -- the mountain of exposition. Much of the plot is explained through the dialogue. It is not even implied through conversation, it is literally one character telling the other what is going on.

To make matters worse, it is not a movie so complicated that it needs to be spelled out. The plot twist is pretty obvious, and it is clear from very early on how special Ja-yun is and how that will play a part later on.

One of the bright spots of the movie is the leading lady. Kim Da-mi has a great face, a kind of face that tells a story on its own.

She has some awkward moments in the third act, but chalk that up to bad writing and misdirection and she shows great potential for a rookie actor.

The superhuman action scene isn’t a masterpiece, but it was quite enjoyable. Special effects and stunts are not “Avengers” level, but it is always something to watch a 90-pound high school girl kick the living daylights out of bad guys.

Is it a good film? Not even close. Did the director misuse good actors? Definitely. The film’s attempt to be a “thinking” action flick just isn’t satisfactory. Even the message itself is not that original.

Some of the action is fun and it is something that Korean films haven’t tried before, but that is not enough to salvage all the annoying points.

“The Witch” isn’t the worst film of the year nor is it a total waste of time, but it is not something that sparks anticipation for a sequel, which is director Park’s plan.

“The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion” opens in local theaters next Wednesday.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

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