Park Hoon-jun’s The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion was a financial success upon its release in 2018, and it garnered some accolades in South Korea and beyond, particularly for its lead performer Kim Da-mi. It is altogether an exciting film, blending gritty action with more fantastical, comic book adjacent tropes (the medical experiments central to the premise are similar to the Weapon X program of X-Men lore). For its reported budget of US $5.5 million, the film looks slick. It’s a fun time.
The Witch: Part 2. The Other One does some typical sequel things. Namely, it expands the world of this story. The Subversion is predominantly concerned with the narrative of Ja-yoon (Kim), an adopted young woman whose past catches up to her. Her unique abilities and ailments point backwards to her origin as the victim of a medical experiment. We follow her back to the facility where it all went down, where she can exact her revenge.
The Other One takes the logical step of examining new characters who went through the same medical transformation. The central figure in this sequel is a test subject who was cloned in the mysterious laboratory (Shin Si-ah). It is implied that she is heavily dangerous and ought to be eliminated. A foul-mouthed mercenary and her South African partner are tasked with tracking her down. Not to mention the various other shadowy figures and their nameless thugs who are also interested in the girl or otherwise are unfortunate enough to fall into her path.
The Witch: Part 2 is more sprawling and action-driven than its predecessor. The Subversion is more character-driven, taking its time to establish the protagonist and those in her inner orbit. This first film takes over an hour before any sci-fi action breaks out. And this is to the film’s credit. By grounding the story in a central character and her loved ones, adequate stakes are established. The mayhem of the second hour is justified by the relatively tame first hour.
The sequel finds itself lost in the sprawl of its multiple criminal conspiracies and ensemble of characters. The protagonist here gets far less time to develop. The characters she ends up alongside (Park Eun-bin and Seong Yu-bin), however sympathetic, are drawn thin. The plot, as a result, struggles to establish meaningful stakes.
This is not to say the action sequences are unimpressive. The effects look closer to seamless in this sequel, and the camerawork and editing are slightly superior, as well. As the film ramps up, barreling into its final act, the action takes center stage and gives way to a thunderous climax. As disappointing as some of the narrative elements are — imagine how impressive a finale we would have gotten if this new protagonist was given the substantive character work Ja-yoon was given — the fireworks explosion of a set piece that tops off the film is exciting to say the least.
The Witch: Part 2 is not as cohesive as one would hope from a sequel to the much loved The Witch. But on a technical level, it surpassed my expectations, leading to some great sequences. This remains a fun franchise with a lot of promise, even as I found myself increasingly less enthused by the expanding mythology of this story world.
The Witch: Part 2. The Other One: B-
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)
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