04th Mar2019

Glasgow Frightfest 2019: ‘The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Kim Da-mi, Cho Min-soo, Choi Woo-shik, Park Hee-soon, Kim Byung-ok, Choi Jung-woo, Go Min-si, Oh Min-hee, Da-eun | Written and Directed by Park Hoon-jung

witch-pt-1-subversion-poster

The first thing to say about The Witch is that it’s not actually about a witch. And the second thing to say is that it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung (the writer of I Saw The Devil), the film opens with a young girl escaping a remote science facility where there’s been a horrific massacre. She finds shelter at a farmhouse and is taken in by the kindly owners (Choi Jung-woo and Oh Min-hee), who raise her as their own.

Ten years later, Ja-yoon (relative newcomer Kim Da-mi) has no memory of her younger life and has become a smart, over-achieving high school student, who’s worried about mother’s recent diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, as well as the financial toll that running the farm is taking on her father. Seeing a way out, she enters a TV singing contest, at the insistence of her best friend Myung-hee (Ko Min-shi).

However, her TV appearance brings several shadowy figures out of the woodwork, including a mysterious boy her own age (Choi Woo-shik, from Okja) who seems to know her, the chilling Professor Baek (Cho Min-soon) and her trigger-happy right-hand man Mr. Choi (Park Hee-soon), both of whom orchestrated the massacre at the facility. As the memories of her past life begin to resurface, Ja-yoon will have to use everything she has to survive.

The twists and turns of the plot are very much key to the pleasures of The Witch: Part 1, so it would be churlish to reveal more, but suffice it to say that after an extremely enjoyable hour or so spent in the company of Ja-yoon and Myung-hee (Ja-yoon’s choice of song for the talent contest is just one of several highlights), the film suddenly becomes a kick-ass sci-fi action flick, with a satisfying gore factor to boot.

To that end, Park Hoon-jung orchestrates some deliriously entertaining action sequences that are heightened by some terrific effects work as characters get slammed through walls or hurl doors at each other. In addition, Park Hoon-jung has an impeccable sense of timing and knows just when to spring his surprises – the first action sequence is beautifully staged and executed and is sure to elicit applause in cinema screens.

The performances are yet another of the film’s delights. Kim Da-mi delivers a star-making turn as Ja-yoon and is utterly convincing both as a frightened schoolgirl and the more confident figure she becomes later on. In that sense, the film puts an inspired twist on standard coming-of-age ideas and the result is ridiculously entertaining.

The supporting cast are equally good. Go Min-si is hilarious as Myung-hee and effortlessly steals every scene she’s in, while Choi Woo-shik manages to be simultaneously cool and menacing at the same time. He also manages to make suddenly speaking in English seem like the most sinister thing in the world. On top of that, Cho Min-soon and Park Hee-soon make colourful antagonists and there’s strong support from K-pop star Da-eun as Gong-ja’s ass-kicking female counterpart.

The plot is ridiculously busy (there’s a whole sub-plot involving Ja-yoon’s crippling headaches), but Park Hoon-jung keeps things moving at a decent pace, even if that falters a little whenever some exposition is called for – one scene in particular drags it out for so long that you start to wonder if it’s meant to be a joke. However, that’s a minor quibble that in no way detracts from the overall enjoyment of the film.

In short, this is enormous fun from beginning to end. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too long for Part 2.

***** 5/5

The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion screened at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Saturday 2nd March, as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019.

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