After the rather minor success, accompanied by mostly unfavourable critiques of his 2017 feature V.I.P, a film where mediocre imagination ruled the depictions of cruel treatment of women, which turned it into a prosaic, occasionally sickening narrative, Park Hoon-jung, who penned The Unjust (2010) and I Saw the Devil (2010), has finally made a proper comeback with a strong and exhilarating supernatural thriller, The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion, starring the newcomer, Kim Da-mi.
The film starts with a carnage in a secret facility, where children are modified and programmed to become warriors with superpowers. During the bloodshed, a boy and a girl manage to escape; however, the boy is soon caught by Mr. Choi (Park Hee-soon: The Fortress, 1987: When the Day Comes) and Dr. Baek (Jo Min-soo: Pieta). The little girl ends up unconscious on a farm far from the laboratory, where she is found by Goo (Choi Jung-woo) and his wife (Oh Mi-hee). They take the girl in and raise her as their own. 10 years later, Ja-yoon (Kim Da-mi) – still unaware of what happened to her – lives her life quietly and attends a local high school like any other teenager would. With the family living on a tight budget and with Ja-yoon’s mother suffering from Alzheimer, the girl decides to appear in a singing competition, with the possibility of winning $500,000.
Ja-yoon and her mischievous friend Myung-hee (Go Min-si) make their way to Seoul, where the next competition is held. However, during their train journey, a strange young man, Gong-ja, a.k.a. Nobleman (Choi Woo-shik: Okja, Monstrum), approaches them and tries to provoke Ja-yoon; it appears like the man knows the girl well, without Ja-yoon being familiar with Gong-ja. After this and the following encounters, Ja-yoon is gradually forced to face who she is and where she really came from – her supernatural powers come alive in a crucial moment of her life and the roller-coaster ride begins…
After the fast-paced intro, the narrative abruptly changes to become slow-moving, only to speed up again in the second part of The Witch. This pacing is a part of what makes the film so engaging; that, and the unexpected twists and turns prove that Park Hoon-jung still possesses the spark for directing; the production is electrifying and adrenaline-pumping.
While the narrative of V.I.P was poorly written, Park’s new work is filled with strong female characters, including Professor Baek and the heroine herself – Ja-yoon. Kim Da-mi’s portrayal of the protagonist shows that the modern Korean cinema is in a great need of more female leads. Her characterization of the young woman, as well as her transformation throughout the film, are dazzling. Her character is neither good nor evil; she is just a living creature, trying to survive as she goes on a necessary rampage. On top of great acting, after spending three months in an action school, Kim Da-mi showcased some serious combat skills on the big screen.
Even if one can catch some similarities to the Marvel’s X-Men stories, the brutality of the fight scenes takes things on another level in The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion and has a substantial impact on the audience – Park is back with the butchery that can rival that in his New World. Given the ending of the film, it is hard not to notice that there is a sequel in the works, but the future direction of the narrative is still hard to predict.
The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion merges thriller, action and sci-fi genres flawlessly, a testament to Park’s storytelling talent. The only thing left to do is to wait for the sequel, which should hopefully come out in a year or so.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Warner Bros.