The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion, 2018.
Directed by Park Hoon-jung.
Starring Kim Da-mi, Cho Min-soo, Park Hee-soon, Choi Woo-shik.
A high school student with amnesia tries to uncover what has happened to her. All leading her into deeper troubles ultimately revealing a darkness she could not have imagined.
Don’t let the blatant sequel bait-y title deceive you, this is a perfectly fine standalone film with no clear sequel in sight. This is not half a film, half a teaser, but a mesmerizing and thoroughly entertaining mix of over the top sci-fi, gory and well-choreographed fight scenes, and an inventive twist on the Korean revenge thriller with some superpowers thrown in for good measure.
Park Hoon-jung, the writer-director best known for writing Kim Jee-woon’s bloody reinvigoration of serial killer tropes in I Saw the Devil and directing the violent action film V.I.P, is back to subvert expectations and delivering a fresh take on a tired genre. Park dials back the gore a bit, and instead focuses on the inner struggles of a badass character’s awakening. There are influences from Hanna, yet the plot most resembles that of the underrated Push, starring a pre-Captain America Chris Evans.
The Witch: Part 1, which starts its festival run at the Fantasia film festival, opens in a hospital facility in the middle of a massacre of children, with blue-tinted neon-lights hiding some of the gruesomeness of the event, complete with flickering lights. Out of the survivors, a girl manages to get away and collapses on a nearby farm. Ten years later, the girl, Ja-yoon (newcomer Kim Da-mi) has no memory whatsoever of the experiments done to her as a child, or why she seems to have special abilities her adopted family now keeps as a secret. One day she decides to appear on a national talent show to earn the money to treat her adoptive mother’s Alzheimer’s and save the farm from economic ruin. When Ja-yoon lets her powers slip as a “special talent” to advance to the final, she is spotted by the people who tortured her as a child, who have been hunting her for years. That’s not all, she also becomes prey for a squad of similarly gifted teens, and the fight begins.
Park’s signature set pieces and choreographed fight scenes are in full effect in The Witch: Part 1, and it doesn’t overwhelm the story, even if one wishes they had reached the fights a little earlier instead of spending so much time devoted to pointless conversations involving characters with cero motivation. The same applies during the explosive third act, where we see a dozen characters or so battling it out in bloody fight sequences, despite only two or three characters having clear goals. Choi Woo-shik (who plays the other child survivor) is a wholly entertaining antagonist, and he seems to be having a lot of fun in the role, even if the scenes where he speaks English sound a bit out of place. Kim Da-mi is without a doubt the film’s standout performance, as she keeps the motivations of Ja-yoon a close secret until the plot reveals a compelling and thrilling backstory that explodes in exciting action. Is she really a quiet girl, or a genius? Is she a witch? A hero? Kim adds layers of determination and innocence to her performance.
The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion tries to cram a bit too much plot in its two-hour runtime and it loses itself during the middle portion of the film, as it seems to forget what its ultimate goal is. Nevertheless, the atmospheric music score, thrilling action sequences and visuals keep you interested in what comes next. One has to wonder though, if part 2 is already in production, then they could have pushed the film’s key revelations to the next one. As of now, there’s little incentive to return to this world, yet the little that we see makes for a very entertaining film.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★