It is abundantly clear that the noir genre is making a huge comeback in the Asian market. Just last week, we saw Lost in the Stars, the Chinese film, come to Netflix with a similar influence. The action genre itself has had a renaissance this year, with John Wick coming back and a remake of the classic South Korean revenge thriller Oldboy. It’s always fantastic to see a female-driven action film, especially when she defies all laws of physics and is absolutely badass. In this oversaturated world of revenge thrillers, Ballerina sticks out like a radiant gem. We can’t go without comparing the beauty of this film to an actual ballet, with scenes of pastel colors and dream-like sequences that make everything look a little less deranged and much more peachy. It is a jarring contrast with the commitment the film has to violence and the race against evil. Just coming up to 90 minutes, the film doesn’t waste any time in establishing the characters and their pasts, but somehow we understand the depth of this story of revenge immediately.
Ok-Ju is an ex-bodyguard who has the responsibility to take revenge for her dear friend Min-Hee thrust upon her. Any more, and we’ll be in spoiler territory. When it comes to action films, there’s always an undertone of homoerotic tension between villain and hero. It’s almost as if it’s suddenly going to turn into an enemies-to-lovers scenario. With the testosterone paired with the sweaty hair and faces coming so close together, you can only imagine they’re going to kiss next. But I digress. I bring this up because for someone to go to the lengths that Ok-Ju goes to to get revenge for Min-Hee can only imply a sort of homosexual feeling between the two. Maybe even a one-sided love. The rose-tinted glasses through which we get to view their relationship definitely imply such feelings, at least from Ok-Ju’s viewpoint. This doesn’t mean it’s sexual in nature .’It’s more like an unconditional love for this one person who means the world to you. All I’m trying to say is “this film gay”. The last time I saw actor Kim Ji-Hoon was as the sweet sidekick in Netflix’s Love to Hate You. He was the best friend of the protagonist, who only hoped for the best for him. The way he transforms for Ballerina is mind-blowing. There is an animalistic nature in which he is represented, which gives you the ick. The tongue swipes, massive shoulder stretching, and there’s a montage of him working out that just all feels disturbing.
Actress from the film The Call, Jun Jong-Seo is the star of this film. Everything bounces off of her impeccable performance as the queen of vengeance. In every aspect, she’s the perfect person to play this role. Her nonchalant attitude, paired with the way she handles the fight choreographies, makes one wonder if she really was, in fact, a bodyguard. In terms of cinematography, it plays the biggest role in this film after Ok-Ju. We see beautiful landscapes juxtaposed with stretched-out scenes of violent action. Director Lee Chung-Hyeon doesn’t hold back at all, for every time there is something menacing on screen, the camera lingers until the end, never blinking or turning away, showcasing the intensity of every wound inflicted. Even if you want to look away, it’s rather difficult because you feel like you’ll miss out on something great. The neon lights, intense choreography, and God-like strength in one woman all make for a heart-pumping experience to watch. On top of that, the score is absolutely thunderous, and some of the rap hits really hard. This film deserves a theatrical movie experience. It’s a shame that we get to see it on Netflix, but rather than watch it in bits while doing other things, dedicate an hour and 30 minutes to this one because the payoff is surreal.
This film is not focused on the plot, and that is alright. Rarely do I feel this way, but even without an epic story or background information, this film ticks the right boxes, delivering exactly what it promises. A revenge thriller like no other. There are multiple scenes that are unforgettable, and this would make a fantastic watch with friends. There’s a sexual violence warning for this film, and I was frankly worried that, like with the action, we would also have to see things go too far in that department. Fortunately, it takes a more respectful approach, and although there is discomfort, there is also respect. We don’t see an unnecessary display of torture when it is clearly implied by actions.
The end of the film is rather mesmerizing, and the way it all comes together is so quick and smooth. Even if Ok-Ju takes it way too far at times, you feel like all her actions are warranted because of the way her feelings reflect visually. At the end of the day, whoever she’s killing is bad, so it’s no big deal. In all honesty, if this were to become a franchise with Ok-Ju going by the alias Ballerina and killing bad guys, I would watch it. Even as a person who isn’t a big fan of the action genre, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. There’s sadness and love that translates from the screen, which is rare to see in this genre. If you’re at all interested in action and can handle gore well without gagging, I highly recommend this film. It’s straight to the point and commits to the end. Revenge has never looked sweeter or more stunning than this. I give this one 4 out of 5 stars. Minus 1 for making me look at the inside of a dirty toilet.