The witch: part 1

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While the coronavirus pandemic has smashed the brakes on Marvel và Warner Bros.’s summer blockbuster slate this year, the next great superhero movie is already here, streaming on Netflix: The Witch Part 1: The Subversion.

Look past that melodramatic, even confusing name; this is not a sequel khổng lồ the 2016 horror movie The Witch. Possibly there’s some nuance lost in translating it over lớn English from its native Korean (the movie debuted in Korea in 2018). From its brutal & electrifying fight scenes to its icy & gritty feel và its core mystery, The Witch Part 1 is a much more exciting, unforgettable watch than its generic title may suggest.

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On the surface, director Park Hoon-jung is telling a Superman-adjacent story: A very special kid, thanks lớn deadly circumstances, becomes an orphan & grows up trying lớn fit into a world that can’t even begin lớn understand them. It takes an extraordinary circumstance, usually a big evil thing, to lớn get a character lượt thích this lớn find themselves và their true potential. That happens in this movie, too.

But the beauty of The Witch is the dark và sublimely satisfying place Park takes us to, once we realize our hero’s true motivation: survival.

At its core, The Witch is about fitting in

The Witch, at its core, is a coming-of-age story about a young girl named Ja-yoon. We first meet her as a child, running away from trouble. What appears to lớn be a black-ops arm of the government is hunting her down for reasons unknown & murders everyone in their way. Bloodied và bruised, Ja-yoon flees lớn a nearby farm where, in a twist of good fortune, a farmer và his elderly wife take her in and evade the dark forces that want her dead.

Flash forward 10 years later, và Ja-yoon (Kim Da-mi) and her family are living unbothered by any evil government agents. The family’s problems are instead depressingly mortal. Ja-yoon’s adoptive father’s farm isn’t doing so well, & her mother is flashing signs of dementia. They’re short on cash. Ja-yoon feels stuck, not being old enough or skilled enough to lớn help her family in the way they need most. At the same time, she is also having some very mysterious splitting headaches.

Her best friend Myung-hee (Ko Min-shi) has an antidote — for her family’s financial problems, not the headaches — which is that Ja-yoon enter a national, televised talent competition not unlike American Idol or The Voice. While Ja-yoon isn’t old enough for a full-time job, she has the voice & appeal to lớn become a pop star, get famous & hopefully provide her family with the money it needs.

The script gets in a few jabs at the not-so-secret workings of Korean pop stardom và the facile business of churning out music acts. But Park is more focused on showing us Ja-yoon’s greenness in endeavors like this one. She approaches everything with wide-eyed optimism, & doesn’t yet have the toughness or savvy khổng lồ know what to bởi should she win the competition. She doesn’t even realize that the black-ops team that’s hunting her down could be watching the TV show, too.

On their girls’ trip lớn Seoul for a show taping, Ja-yoon và Myung-hee meet Gong-ja (Choi Woo-Shik), a boy with pop star looks who says he knows Ja-yoon. He seems a little too mysterious, a little too familiar, a little too stylish to lớn not be connected to lớn the well-funded team that’s hunting her down.

But Ja-yoon has her eyes on the competition. If she wins, she can help her ailing mom, her struggling dad, & maybe solve her own health problems. That is, until the bottom falls out.

Warning: Only keep reading if you’re not afraid of some very big spoilers.


The movie’s strength is in its absolutely fantastic twist

Ja-yoon’s shot at stardom quickly seems to be a fatal error. The boy she meets, Gong-ja, is actually in cahoots with one Professor Baek (Cho Min-soon), the icy head of the government program that’s still hunting Ja-yoon down. Her appearance on the show sets off a series of disasters which kết thúc up with Ja-yoon trading her freedom for her parents’ safety. At the same time, we get a flash of Ja-yoon’s powers which seem lớn be super strength, agility, and marksmanship — she takes down a team of goons in her trang chủ before Gong-ja, who also has powers, and his gang shows up.

They take Ja-yoon lớn Baek’s secret facility, where Baek explains that they’ve been searching for her for a very long time. Ja-yoon, like Gong-ja, was part of a government program that tinkered with kids’ brains, altering them so those kids would eventually become violent superhumans. It also turns out that the headaches Ja-yoon experiences are actually a symptom of a bigger, deadly side effect of those experiments, Baek tells her, before giving her a cure that staves off death for one month. Và now, with the cure as blackmail, she’s under their control.

Ja-yoon was the most lethal superhuman created by the program, and she made it so stupidly easy for them to lớn find her, Baek says. But then we all slowly realize that this was Ja-yoon’s plan all along.

Ja-yoon wanted to lớn be found.

It turns out she knew about the cause of her headaches và her terminal symptoms long ago, & that, with her lack of resources, she’d never be able khổng lồ find Baek và her clandestine organization on her own. Playing a young, innocent girl who had no idea about her powers was going lớn chum the waters và bring Baek, and her cure, out of hiding. Everything we think we know about Ja-yoon gets turned on its head. She played us like she played Baek.

Park then unfurls the true nature of his movie: It’s not so much about a superhero finding herself, but an anti-hero bent on revenge.

The twist hinges on Kim’s devastating performance. She plays Ja-yoon with the exact amount of earnestness & sweetness needed for us lớn believe that she’s just a young girl in a world that threatens khổng lồ swallow her up. She never leans too far into these traits that the character becomes saccharine or even overwhelming; in an instant, when Kim sharpens her face & coils her brows, that girl we think we know is gone, replaced with a woman finally able khổng lồ wield her immense power.

Park doesn’t allow Ja-yoon to lớn be a saint, clearly painting her as a sociopath instead. She finds glee in the bloody pain she inflicts và the insults she throws. Ja-yoon tells one of Gong-ja’s goons to witness her greatness as Ja-yoon holds her face in her hands, lượt thích a lion toying with its dinner. Yet watching Ja-yoon break bones, crack limbs, & shoot up Baek’s henchmen is beautiful, cathartic even. Because they fell under the spell of underestimating the witch — và maybe I did, too.