Although missing from the home entertainment releases, the IMDB title for this film is The Witch: Part 1 - The Subversion, implying a continuation of the story. In fact, the film is rumored to be a part of a trilogy which makes a great deal of sense considering that this two-hour film feels mostly like set-up. It is somewhat like watching an extended pilot to a television series, which only finally establishes what the ongoing narrative will be by the end. Unfortunately, this works much better when there is the guarantee of a season of additional episodes to continue the story, which this film does not have. As a result, the experience is somewhat disappointing, and the reveal in the final act is not exciting enough to make up for the first 2/3 of the narrative, which feels inconsequential by the end. It ends up feeling a lot like the filmmaker wasted time trying to fool the audience, and seems unlikely that an audience treated like fools will be excited to come back for more, should a sequel ever be made.
Other than an ungracious way of treating the audience, The Witch: Subversion makes the mistake of trying to be mysterious with a story that is painfully familiar regardless of the trickery. This is essentially just another superhero narrative, like so many that we have seen in recent years across all national borders. What’s more, the film shares a lot of similarities to the YA genre as well. Imagine Twilight and X-Men had a cinematic Korean offspring (with just a hint of The Bourne Identity), and it would be this film. But it pretends not to be for so much of the run-time, audiences will likely tire of the decision to withhold information that already feels painfully obvious long before it is actually revealed.
At the beginning of the film, we witness a young girl escaping through the woods. Pursued by a menacing looking mob, we are clued in to the danger this young girl poses to some people, but the reason is not revealed until more than halfway through the bloated run-time. When the plot jumps forward in time, we join high school girl, Ko Ja Yoon (Da-mi Kim), who has been adopted by a kindly elderly couple who had lost their own child and are living on a remote farm in the country. When their farm begins to fail because of dropping cattle prices, Ja Yoon decides to do something. At the encouragement of her painfully obnoxious best friend, Myung-Hee (Go Min-Si), Ja Yoon enters a reality TV singing competition, advancing for some kind of magical trick she performed after singing (which the film pointlessly refuses to let the audience see until near the end of the film). This inevitably brings back the menacing group from her childhood, and the hunt to find her begins again.
We know that this situation will end with a conflict in which special magical powers are utilized in a fight. And that does indeed happen, but many audience members are likely to lose their patience and stop caring by the time it does. The first half of the film is sorely missing any type of interesting drama or action, instead plodding along with countless scenes in which we must endure the annoyance of Myung-Hee’s personality (and Min-Si’s performance). She is so grating in the constant invasion of space and social obtuseness, from demanding a cut of the reality TV prize for no reason to eating food noisily with her mouth open, even the other characters in the movie must constantly call her out on the lack of social graces. And the character of Ja Yoon is so subdued in contrast, the irritating friend tends to dominate the film in the first half. Even a break from this in order to develop some of the villains better would have been time well spent.
When the action finally does begin, I found myself less than impressed. This may be partially because of all of the build up, but it was also due to a heavy reliance on special effects rather than choreography. When you can make the characters do impossible things with CGI, that doesn’t mean that the action can’t also be grounded in the performances and abilities of the cast. This film is happy simply explaining abilities away as magic, even if the presentation of these elements are mediocre at best. I’m sure a sequel would really take off, but I would be just as happy leaving the story here.
The Blu-ray release does help present the digital effects at the end of the film in a more polished manner, which is good considering the high definition disc has little else to offer. There is no alternate viewing option, such as a DVD or digital copy, and the special features are also missing from on the disc. It seems that the distributor of the film on home entertainment had the same skepticism about the film, which may also explain the decision to release it without the “Part 1” attached to the title.
Entertainment Value: 5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Special Features: 0/10