THE WITCH: PART 1. THE SUBVERSION (2018)
A tense mystery turned blood-splattered action thriller as a young girl rediscovers her powerful former self
While it is usually Korean cinema doing the subverting with its genre-mashed approach to such films, the word takes on a multi-faceted meaning in Park Hoon-jung's gentle-build then rapid action outing.
As stated in the title, this is the first part of an ongoing narrative arch, but this part itself can be divided into two different paced approaches. However, tied together with enough intrigue and a superb soundtrack throughout, we find ourselves well-prepared as the gear-shifts commence.
A young girl named Ja-yoon (Kim Da-mi) escapes a remote laboratory after a violent altercation which leaves several dead. The lab chiefs decide her escape will lead to her inevitable death and accept Ja-yoon's getaway.
Eventually collapsing on a farm, she is taken in by Mr. and Mrs. Goo, who nurse her back to health and adopt her as their own daughter.
We jump forward a decade and Ja-yoon is living a normal teen life and memories of her past seem to have passed. With her family struggling financially, Ja-yoon decides to enter a national signing contest to raise funds.
However, as she progresses through the competition, her television appearances attract the attention of those from her former life, including a star turn from ‘Nobleman’, played by Choi Woo-shik the year before he found international stardom in Parasite.
It is better to leave narrative descriptions here, as the film explodes into life with rapid-violence and stylised retribution.
This is a film best judged as the credits roll. There is a such a stark contrast between the accumulating tension of the first hour and the final hour, which can be best understood as a ultra-violent superhero revenge genre mash-up. In some ways, this is an genuine toe in the superhero genre water, a guise of cinema that has so consumed international audiences in the past decade.
Kim Da-mi delivers a mesmerising central performance, able to portray an innocent schoolgirl and then a more powerful incarnation as her past merges into her current self.
The plot is still dense, despite this clearly being pitched as the first instalment as an ongoing saga, and it does not rush through its mysterious first act, a device that works, but might jar the more impatient action fan.
For Park Hoon-jung, it further enhances his directorial talents. Having previously excelled as the screenwriter for international hit I Saw The Devil (2010) and then The Unjust (2010), Park has since directed The Showdown (2011), New World (2013), The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale (2015) and then V.I.P. (2017). Violent action seems to be Park’s stock-in-trade, meaning he is likely to find plenty of work in Korean cinema.
The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion is a layered and dense starter gun of an intriguing and action-filled narrative arch. We wait to see where Park takes us in coming installments.