The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - THE WITCH | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (VOD) - THE WITCH

the witch korean film review
A teen with special powers is hunted after escaping from an experimental facility.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Park Hoon-jung

Starring: Kim Da-mi, Jo Min-su, Choi Woo-shik, Park Hee-soon

the witch korean film poster

Whatever you might think or say about the Marvel franchise (and people on both sides do seem to have plenty to say), the last few years have changed cinema forever (or at least for the next few years). It’s already happening with a distinct sway towards franchise extravagance at the box office and the Netflix effect meaning that mid-budgeted, adult orientated fare prospers only on home streaming. Why not: home is warm, the food free, and it’s easier to have sex there. The big cinema trips are saved for the spectacle, the films which are part of the big brand, the ones which everyone else will be going to see because they are targeted at all audiences: the ones where your hiked ticket price feels justifiable (low budget films barely get a look in either way: except on places like The Movie Waffler, of course). Hoon-jung Park’s The Witch: Part 1 - The Subversion is a Korean attempt to court this model of filmmaking. Alongside the fractional title (the film is part of an eventual trilogy), the trailer duly promises a comic book inflected premise of shady action conspiracy, with gun toting spooks chasing down a gifted (hard as nails) tween girl (Ja-yoon: Kim Da-mi) and causing impressively violent phenomena.

the witch korean film review

Think Hanna, X-Men or The Darkest Minds, because the producers of The Witch probably have. Ok, it’s derivative, as so much is, but is it any good? In the first instance yes, as the Hollywood template is inveigled with the indigenous Korean genre of revenge (as The Witch is an East Asian take on superhero tropes, does this make Ja-yoon a Revenger?!). In the opening credits we are shown a montage of weird medieval woodcuts of black magic, shuffling eventually towards archaic monochrome pics of kiddies being experimented on (just like Wolverine - and we all know how pissed off he was about that sort of thing). We cut to the present day, and a violent raid on the facility where all of this is going down. The kids are killed to death by a swat team, all brutal head shots and blood on teddy bears. Watching this shamelessly exploitative and exciting opening, you’re already pumped for revenge, and rooting for little Ja-yoon as she hotfoots it from the facility and into hiding. But cool your blood - you’ve got ages yet.

We spend the next protracted act catching up with Ja-yoon, now a teen, who has been adopted Kal-El style by a homely couple on a farm. The only violence for a while is courtesy of some so-so comic relief goons, who do that thing you see in Korean films where an older man slaps a younger man repeatedly on the head for a laugh. We learn instead how impoverished the warm-hearted family are, a situation exacerbated by Ja-yoon’s mum’s dementia. Something needs to be done so Ja-yoon, a young girl who was experimented into having techno-occult powers, decides to enter into a Korea’s Got Talent style televised singing competition.

the witch korean film review

Honestly now. The darkness of the opening (and considering this is written and directed by the same fella who wrote the beautifully bleak I Saw the Devil, hopes were high) gives way to the sort of plot development which is more suited to the Nativity films, complete with a madcap dash to the train station by Ja-yoon and her wacky BFF to make the live show. There is then a K-Pop performance (you know, for kids, etc). Problem is that such a high-profile presentation allows the government spooks, who are seemingly big into teatime talent shows, to first spot Ja-yoon and then begin to (finally!) track her down.

the witch korean film review

The violence which ensues from this point is brutal and breath-taking (and unlike anything you’d see in Nativity), including an imaginative scene where a mean girl-esque rival takes down a team of blokes with assault rifles armed with only a sharp knife and her telekinetic ability. The film looks incredible throughout, and the violence, as bespoke and finely detailed as the incredible suits the bad guys wear, is part of the impressive visual set. But, for me, perhaps spoilt by the influx of superhero films which privilege action and spectacle over plot development and characterisation in an attempt to globalise their product, these bits where slightly few and far between. There is a very silly twist that makes no sense at all, too. That said, I look forward to the next instalment of The Witch, which will hopefully involve more acrobatic carnage, culturally specific comedy and, hopefully, a trip by Ja-yoon to one of the judge’s house as she consolidates her nascent pop career.

The Witch is on VOD now.

2019 movie reviews