BALLERINA (발레리나) (NETFLIX) (2023)
SYNOPSIS: This film depicts the beautiful and ruthless revenge by Ok-joo, a former bodyguard, for Min-hee, her best friend.
Ballerina is a South Korea action revenge movie that has nothing to do with the John Wick’s spinoff of the same name that is releasing next year.
Ok-joo (Jeon Jong-seo from Burning and The Call) is a lonely, introverted retired bodyguard whose only friend it seems is the bubbly Min-hee (Park Yu-rim), her middle school classmate. When Min-hee left a suicide note asking Ok-joo to seek revenge for her, all hell breaks loose as Ok-joo found out her target is a BDSM loving, drug supplier jerk, Choi Pro (Kim Ji-hoon).
The opening which showcases Ok-joo beating up several thugs at a convenience store pretty much summed up the tone of the entire movie. The action is fast and chaotic owing partly to the swift editing and camerawork. As per any other action female protagonists in modern cinema, the character of Ok-joo is painted as more than formidable but there are still believable moments whereby we wonder if Ok-joo will survive the next vicious attack.
The clever usage of lighting and colour adds to the beauty of the various shots especially Ok-joo first encounter with Choi Pro at a sleazy hotel room. Again, the action choreography is madness and gory. For a 90 minutes movie, the amount of action sequences on the whole more than suffices and the momentum keeps building up to the finale which took place in a drug plant.
While Ballerina boasts a superb mix of John Wick meets John Woo brand of stylized action, the narrative is primarily on the weaker side. There’s no backstory of how Ok-joo turns into such a jaded self despite not looking a day older than 30. Or how exactly did Min-hee encountered Choi Pro? And what other crimes did Choi Pro and his gang members did besides supplying soy sauce packets disguised as drugs and imprisoning high school girls as sex slaves? The possibilities are endless but director and writer Lee Chung-hyun keeps things to the minimum which to be fair isn’t exactly a bad decision.
Jeon Jong-seo plays the fiery character perfectly, channelling her rage and intense stares to avenge a person whom probably the only genuine friend left in her life. As for Kim Ji-hoon, his performance easily turns him into the most hated villain of all time with his flashy, perverted appearance and behaviour.
For all it’s worth, Ballerina knows how to excite the audiences and action fans. We are sure there is a fanbase waiting eagerly to see who is Ok-joo battling next. Perhaps taking out any sex predator? Perhaps using another mind-blowing weapon liked a flame thrower from the old couple who sells weaponry out of an amusement park van. The possibilities are again endless.
Review by Linus Tee