THE WITCH: SUBVERSION: A Solid South Korean Action Mystery

No, not that The Witch

Ko Ja Yoon (Da-mi Kim) has erased the memories of her traumatic childhood. She’s grown and lives a somewhat idyllic life on a farm with her adoptive parents who found her unconscious and bloody after escaping a mysterious facility. But despite the loving home environment, pressures are mounting around the farm as Ko Ja Yoon’s mother begins succumbing to dementia and falling cattle prices threaten the viability of the farm. So, she does a very “normal teenager” thing and takes a shot at a big televised talent competition in order to win a big prize and save her family. But that tv appearance triggers unwanted visitors from her childhood, and it’s going to get explosive.

The Witch: Subversion benefits from its very South Korean approach to its subject matter. There’s deep, dark violence lurking beneath frequently calm and collected faces. There’s K-Pop. There’s slick, fluid action sequences and seemingly a fair amount of depravity just beneath the pristine surface. And while the mystery does play out in effective ways, a lot of The Witch: Subversion feels familiar. Ko Ja Yoon very clearly has “powers” of some kind, as do those who are pursuing her. As such, the film falls pretty squarely into the superhero subgenre, feeling like a horror-infused X-Men story complete with a coming-of-age element. There’s also traces of the YA phenomenon here as a strong young female protagonist fights against a dark system of power. You even get a Superman (and Stranger Things?) vibe as Ko Ja is taken in by kind farmers and raised in isolation to protect her (and her powers) from the suspicious outside world. Lastly, in a page taken right out of serialized comics, it seems clear that this film is just the beginning of a much bigger story. This is made clear both by the original Korean title of the film, which included “Part 1” in there, and also by the ending of the film itself, which teases a sequel.

I’m actually great with the concept of South Korean takes on the superhero genre. South Korean cinema is some of my very favorite from around the globe. And this film largely got its hooks into me. It does feel, however, that this story takes just a few too many cues from the unending wave of superhero cinema coming out of North America and perhaps suffers some from feeling too familiar.

The biggest strengths in The Witch: Subversion’s corner are its action, its cast, and its writer/director. There’s frankly not enough action, but what’s there is incredible. You get these smooth, explosive moments where powers are used to break bones and guns become psychokinetic playthings. Then there are Matrix-like hints of super-powered and gravity-defying martial arts battles that kick all kinds of ass while never quite feeling totally unleashed. In terms of the cast, you can’t help but be excited about the villainous turn of Parasite’s Woo-sik Choi. He’s nameless, mysterious, playful, and cruel. Da-mi Kim in the lead role anchors things quite nicely especially as the mystery unfolds and our lead gains more and more dimensions to her personality. The cast is uniformly strong and sells the magical world existing beneath the cover of our own. Writer/Director Hoon-jung Park isn’t at his first rodeo, here, either. Having written modern Korean classic I Saw The Devil, this is a man who can bring the titillating depravity. Also responsible for writing/directing New World, V.I.P., and The Tiger over the past several years. He’s kept busy and he builds just enough of an intriguing world here to convince me that I need to check out future installments in this pulpy franchise to see just how buckwild this universe is going to get. If the action hinted at here is any indication, The Witch: Subversion could be just a taste of what is to come.

And I’m Out.

The Witch: Subversion hits Blu-ray, DVD, & Digital March 10th, 2020 from Well Go USA.

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