Blood-soaked sci-fi action from Korea, loaded with stylish thrills
There are movies like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness that become blockbusters, and there are movies like Everything Everywhere All at Once that become art house favorites, and then there are movies like The Witch 2: The Other One that fly in under the radar, generating little buzz even though they are at least as entertaining as the high-profile hits.
Audiences fortunate enough to reside near a theatre screening the Korean science fiction thriller should should race to enjoy it on the big screen before it makes a quick transition to home video. It is slickly made, outrageously violent, hugely entertaining, and even – at times – surprisingly heartfelt. Even viewers with no predilection for foreign-language cinema or ultra-violence should thoroughly enjoy themselves.
The Witch Part 2 Review: Who is the Other One?
As you might have guessed from the title, The Witch Part 2: The Other One is a sequel but not to the overrated 2015 art house horror film The Witch. The predecessor is actually The Witch Part 1: Subversion (2018), also written and directed by Park Hoon-jung, which wedded John Wick-style stunts and action with well-executed CGI to explore the premise of scientifically enhanced test subjects with superhuman abilities.
If you have not seen the first film, the sequel might be a little confusing (hell, if might be confusing even if you have seen the original); fortunately, The Witch Part 1: Subversion is currently available on Vudu. What you need to know, in a nutshell, is that Part 1 was the story of Koo Ja Yoon (Kim Da-Mi), a teenager who has been living a comfortable life on a farm since escaping from the secret facility responsible for the experiments. Eager to help her cash-strapped adoptive parents, she enters a television talent contest where she shows off her telekinetic ability, which immediately captures the attention of the people still looking for her. After a prodigious body count, Koo Ja Yoon confronts Dr. Baek (Min-soo Jo), a wheelchair-bound scientist whose twin sister was involved with the experiments, only to find herself face-to-face with another young girl, presumably also with enhanced abilities and maybe her sister of even her twin, though the film ends without clarifying the point, leaving the door wide open for a sequel to fill in the blanks.
Picking up from this cliffhanger, though not directly, The Witch Part 2: The Other One takes a roundabout path to answering the lingering questions. Writer-director Park Hoon-jung’s ambitious narrative approach is to introduce characters and plot threads without providing much exposition, forcing viewers to put things together from contextual clues: body language and demeanor indicate who has past history, who is in charge, and who is threatening whom in any situation. This is further complicated by Park Hoon-jung’s penchant (seen in the previous film) of having multiple teams hunting his protagonist, each with its own conflicting agenda. Part of the fun is that the characters are sometimes as confused as we are by the appearance of these rival teams, the film’s joke being that it is not depicting some intricate conspiracy with neatly interlocking pieces but rather a sort of chaotic regime in which the stakes are so high that no faction is willing to sit back and let someone else to complete the mission.
What are the stakes, and what is the mission? To assassinate the “other one” of the title (Shin Sia), an unnamed Girl known officially only as “Ark 1 Datum point,” who has escaped from another experimental facility after it was raided by a black ops unit trying to kill her. As in the previous film, those in the know fear that this test subject, engineered and trained to kill, is too dangerous to live, and they will employ some ruthless measure to get the job done.
The Witch Part 2 Review: Treading New Ground
Though working from a similar premise, The Witch Part 2: The Other One does more than reprise its predecessor. The first film was largely a mystery that built up to explanations and carnage, which arrived mostly in the last act. The sequel, with the ground laid, goes high-octane from frame one, spacing several energetic action scenes throughout the running time.
Even more distinct is the lead character. Although also an enhanced human like Koo Ja Yoon, the Girl is very much an unformed innocent, seeing the outside world for the first time, having apparently spent her entire life inside the confines of the laboratory. Newcomer Shin Sia deftly plays the wide-eyed wonder that makes her character feel human and sympathetic even though she transforms into a remorseless potential killing machine whenever danger strikes. Along the way she is endearing and even funny, particularly when, having recently learned the joys of food and eager to sample an abundance of new flavors, she goes on a wild shopping spree at the grocery store.
The story has her hook up with another family of farmers, in this case Kyung-hee (Park Eun-bin) and Dae-gil (Sung Yoo-bin), a sister and her brother whose uncle, Yong-doo (Jin Goo) is a mob boss trying to force them to sell so that he can develop the land into commercial property. It feels as if the film is turning into a sci-fi version of Shane, but things take a turn for the worse when the uncle joins forces with one of the teams tracking the Girl, leading to some unexpected developments at the conclusion, which finally gets around to clarifying the relationship between the Girl and Koo Ja Yoon. (Not getting into spoilers, but the timeline of events makes it clear that the Girl in this film cannot be the mysterious girl who appeared at the end of the first film, so even if you are paying attention, you may find yourself a bit lost trying to make sense of how the sequel ties in to its predecessor.
The Witch Part 2 Review: Fantastic Action
More than its predecessor, The Witch Part 2: The Other One seems designed to showcase as many action set pieces as possible, which easily surpass recent efforts like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and even Everything Everywhere All At Once, not only in terms of sheer carnage but also of artistry.
The film hits the sweet spot with its violence. The over-the-top stylization mutes the sting, and most of the victims deserve what they get. Also, Park Hoon-jung does more than simply make the violence fun to watch; occasionally he shifts tone to lend dramatic impact to the casualties – even, in one or two cases, when they are among the antagonists.
On a technical level, the key to the film’s visual success is that the action sequences feel organic. Though shot and edited within an inch of their life, they are never confusing; you always know what is happening to whom, who is getting the upper hand, and who is outmatched in spite of their best efforts.
Equally important, there is an emphasis on live-action stunts and performances that lends an aura of credibility to the incredible agilities of the characters. Of course, CGI is involved, but it is used to punctuate the action, like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. The result is fight scenes that mostly look as if they were filmed live – until a punch sends someone flying through a wall.
There is also a decent variety to how the fights play out – some one-side, some more evenly matched, with just enough visual information for viewers to understand why things happen the way they do. One fun aspect of the film is that all the assassins on the Girl’s trail are, in some sense, super soldiers – capable of leaping over trees and wrenching doors off of cars – and yet even these bad-asses are intimidated by the Girl. Although the characters’ different capabilities are never explained verbally, what we see them do is explanation enough. To cite one particular: in The Witch Part 1, a headshot was the only sure way to kill one of the enhanced humans; in the sequel, however, the Girl survives a bullet in the skull in the opening scene, which lets us know she represents (as one character puts it) “some next level shit!”
As always, seeing the tables turned on some previously unstoppable villains is always a joyful hoot, and Park Hoon-jung plays it for all its worth. It is especially amusing to see the Girl defend her new friends by sending their previously dangerous Uncle Yong-doo scurrying away like a kicked dog. Beyond the visceral satisfaction of winning a fight, the scene also makes a story point, underlining the growing connection between the Girl and the siblings who have taken her in, suggesting the (perhaps overly optimistic) possibility that her role as protector could lead to a more substantial, permanent relationship and even a normal life.
In a clever touch, the good guys are not the only ones who engender sympathy. Thanks to some amusing banter, a pair of assassins played by Seo Eun-soo and Justin John Harvey (she usually speaks English for his benefit, but he can tell when she’s cursing him in Korean) remain surprisingly likable despite their mission to kill the Girl, and the story cleverly coaxes us to root for them by contriving a confrontation with a truly vile group of enhanced thrill-killers, whose powers outmatch their own. As in the previous film, half the fun of The Witch Part 2: The Other One is that the film feels like an overcrowded shooting gallery, with so many hired hit men and women that it is almost but not quite impossible to keep track of their overlapping agendas.
The Witch Part 2 Review: Conclusion
There is probably nothing more off-putting than a review that lectures its readers by criticizing a popular film they enjoyed and insisting that some little-seen sleeper is much better. Nevertheless, we cannot resist declaring that The Witch Part 2: The Other One is more enjoyable than the box office behemoth Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and its critically lauded art house counterpoint Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Without any heavy-handed attempt at elevating itself above its genre status, The Witch Part 2: The Other One whole-heartedly embraces its science fiction and action elements, using them to create a rousing entertainment that elicits thrills with its firepower but also generates pathos for its protagonist.
The film hits the sweet spot with its violence. The over-the-top stylization mutes the sting, and most of the victims deserve what they get. Also, Park Hoon-jung avoids descending into empty flash, occasionally shifting tone to lend dramatic impact to the casualties – even, in one or two cases, when they are among the antagonists.
The film is not perfect. The narrative threads tying the sequel to its predecessor are a bit tangled, and some remain dangling at the end. Fortunately, there is some sense of progress; the new cliffhanger shifts attention to another briefly glimpsed character, who will presumably be the subject of a joint quest by the Girl and Koo Ja Yoon. The cliffhanger ending may be frustrating for some viewers, but frankly The Witch Part 2: The Other One feels as if it has reached an ending point. The body count can only go so high before an exhausted audience needs a break.
Even more exhausting than the thrills is the emotional journey of the Girl, whose emergence from the lab into the world at large awakens her to a previously unknown potential happiness, including what looks like a budding romance with Dae-gil (whom she teases with displays of her telekinetic ability). Sadly, this potential is impeded not only by the assassins on her trail but also by her own nature. At the end of The Witch Part 1, one of Koo Ja Yoon’s attackers pointedly raised the question of how she could even imagine returning to her former life after unleashing her lethal powers in a blood-spattered display of retribution.
The same question, still unresolved, hangs over the Girl at the end of Part 2. The film urges the audience to enjoy seeing her destroy defeat enemies with no more effort than swatting a fly, but there is a price to pay. Can a soul soaked so deeply in blood, even a sympathetic one, hope to live a normal, happy life?
Our rating of The Witch Part 2: The Other One
The Witch: Part 2. The Other One is an awesome and totally unapologetic genre film that hits the bullseye over and over. Though the slighlty confusing storyline does not tie in with its predecessor as neatly as we would like, it is nonetheless a worth successor that manages to explore new territory, taking a different approach to its title character, whose emotional journey invests the outrageous action with some genuine – and surprising – pathos.
The Witch: Part 2. The Other One (Well Go USA, 2022). Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung. Cast: Shin Sia, Min-soo Jo, Kim Da-Mi, Jin Goo, Lee Jong-Suk, Yoo-Bin Sung, Eun-bin Park, Seo Eun-soo, Justin John Harvey. 97 mins. In Korean with English subtitles. US Release Date: June 17.
A Note About the Title: Although the English subtitles do not make it clear, “The Witch” seems to be a codename for the project that created the Girl and Koo Ja Yoon, presumably because unlike the other enhanced characters we see, they have psychic abilities (telekinesis) which could have been deemed witchcraft in an earlier age.
The Witch Part 2: The Other One is in limited theatrical release, including engagements at CGV Cinemas LA and CGV Cinemas Buena Park 8.