There is absolutely nothing revolutionary about The Witch - Part 1: Subversion. So if you have come here for something groundbreaking, move along. The Witch is a dystopian revenge film catering for your thirst of far-fetched 3rd Reich-related science experiments gone wrong, corporate villains and badass bionic fighters. But you have got to give it to writer/director Park Hoon-jung (I Saw the Devil, New World), his formulas might be well-known but he is certainly in full control of them and every old trick hits the target.
The film opens on a harrowing montage of still black and white shots to guide you through the genesis of the story i.e. a bunch of mad scientists playing around with children’s brains to create superhumans. You have seen it before, but still, you are gripped. Of course, the experiment gets out of control and our badass heroin Ja-Yoon - the wonderfully creepy Kim Da-Mi - goes AWOL in a bloodbath. Ten years later, Ja-Yoon takes part in televised talent competition in order to support her family’s farm and pay for her adoptive mother’s medical bills. The villains spot her and go after her with everything they have got, machine guns and out-of-this-world martial arts experts included. As I said, there is nothing groundbreaking about The Witch. And yet.
The Witch - Part 1 is the first of a “Hunger Games/ The Maze Runner”-type franchise, which features young adults competing under the manipulating influence of evil entertainment companies and eugenicist corporations. Yet, it is resolutely more mature than its Hollywood counterparts, offering a much darker and bloodier relationship between adults and teenagers. The Witch juggles the clichés of teenage, revenge and horror cinema in an adrenaline-packed ride; it’s big screen entertainment if every I have seen it. It is not action-packed from beginning to end, filled with sickening large scale fight scenes designed to give you an headache (I am looking at you, Marvel Universe).
Actually, most of the film follows the life of normal teenager Ja-Yoon and her hilarious side-kick Myung-hee meeting increasingly more unsettling characters in the wake of Ja-Yoon’s rising TV fame. Actress Go Min-si deserves praises for the comic relief and irony she brings to the piece which help smooth the long initial narrative exposition.
While the amateurs of the genre might complain about the mundane of it all, you might find yourself warming up to the innocent young characters. The female duo offers a heart-warming depiction of teenage friendship, which becomes all the more enjoyable when Ja-Yoon turns into a badass fighter mid-film. Forget Jennifer Lawrence’s bow and arrow, this is female power on display if every there was. Ja-Yoon is giving us a feminist action hero for the ages. Although the script misses the surprise effect on some worn out plot twists, there is no denying that the writing is incredible when it comes to dialogue. The face-a-faces between Ja-Yoon and fellow “teen mutant” Gongja played by Choi Woo-shik (who Western audiences might know from Train to Busan) are the perfect blend of tension and irony which make genre films so enjoyable. The teenagers are definitely The Witch’s assets.
While The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner are largely set on antagonising adults, they represent teenagers as clueless pawns on a journey to self-realisation, symbolised by their quest to escape the trap they are set in by adults. The Witch rising above the crop by giving much more credit to the younger generation. They are neither clueless nor denied their wits. And while they have to fend with the adults, the most impressive (and enjoyable) spats take place amongst themselves. No doubt, if given an opportunity, The Witch would appeal to young adults all around the world, pinning for the next installment - I, for one, will be waiting in line. The Witch confirms (if needed be) South Korea’s know-how for cinematic entertainment, taking Hollywood-style blockbusters and sprinkling some thrill over their half-baked clichés.