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Ballerina - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2023

Thriller, Action

Lee Chung-hyun

Jeon Jong-seo
Kim Ji-hoon
Park Yu-rim
Shin Se-hwi
Park Hyoung-soo

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Ballerina - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Ok-ju (Jeon Jong-seo) is a loner and quit her job a while ago. Then, after ages her friend Min-hee (Park Yu-rim) suddenly gets in touch with her again and invites her to come to her place. When Ok-ju arrives there, she finds her friend dead in the bathtub. She took her own life and left a note asking her friend to take revenge for her. Ok-ju previously worked for a security company and is now doing everything in her power to find the people responsible for Min-hee's suicide. Shortly afterwards, there is a call on Min-hee's cell phone and Ok-ju has her first lead. Choi Pro (Kim Ji-hoon) was the caller and seems to have blackmailed Ok-ju's friend. He expects to meet up with Min-hee, who used to be a ballerina, at a certain location. Ok-ju shows up instead and follows Choi from a safe distance to his house. When he leaves the house the following day, she breaks in, installs some bugging devices, and finds countless thumb drives in his bedroom with videos of him using drugs to make women compliant. There is also a video featuring Min-hee. In fact, Choi runs an entire escort service this way using the videos as leverage. Now that she has all the information she needs, Ok-ju is all about seeking revenge. She manages to get close to Choi, but her assassination attempt ends in causing quite some problems...

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Ballerina - Film Screenshot 4

Review: "Ballerina" is one of those revenge flicks where you clearly know what to expect. The minimum amount of story and the rest just being relentless action. And that's a perfect description for this movie, even though it also manages to surprise you with its atmospheric structure, which can almost be called leisurely, and images that are both polished and refreshing. This is the case not least because of the neon-lit streets at night. With its atmosphere, the movie is able to break away from the typical genre fare (surprisingly, the style doesn't remind you of the obvious "John Wick"), and it also feels a little bit like an indie flick, in which Ok-ju's friendship (or romance?) with Min-hee is gradually fleshed out by flashbacks. Nothing earth-shattering happens here, but over time, we somehow understand better what kind of emotional loss the death of her friend must have meant for our heroine, even though you can't always see it because of her unapproachable, cold nature.

Ballerina - Film Screenshot 5

The villain of the story is also well done. We don't get a thoroughly fleshed out character, but because of the way he treats women and goes about his business, he is not only hateable, but also disgusting. Which is actually the main thing in a movie like this. Basically, there aren't that many other characters. Ok-ju is the typical silent killer. Jeon Jong-seo ("Burning") gives her role the necessary credibility, which is not an easy thing to do. The action, which I will get to later on, is by no means bad, but the trained eye can tell that these scenes aren't her expertise. A small, slender woman, who also knows how to come out on top against more corpulent opponents, can only be portrayed believably with the right kind of editing and if the actress gives her character the necessary self-confidence in those scenes. And Jeon succeeds in doing the latter. Nowadays, it happens all too often that filmmakers try to bring powerful women to the screen and fail miserably because the actresses are not suitable for the role.

Ballerina - Film Screenshot 6

So, the killer is convincing as such, and that's also thanks to some interesting decisions in the script. The mercilessness with which Ok-ju sometimes proceeds leads to a few unexpected scenes that bring a breath of fresh air into the otherwise unspectacular story. Eventually, another character is introduced, who also wants to take revenge. Of course, she just turns out to be a damsel-in-distress, and even though a killer duo would have been nice, with her Ok-ju at least gets someone at her side that she could still save, which is not the case with Min-hee, and so her revenge campaign might not make her fall into a sort of limbo when everything is said and done, after all. However, "Ballerina" is bold enough to make you expect the movie to have a gritty ending. This also makes it easier for us to root for the characters. Which actually starts in the second half. From that point on, Ok-ju's revenge picks up pace and you are finally sucked into the movie. Something that wasn't the case during the rather leisurely beginning.

Ballerina - Film Screenshot 7

Then we finally get the much-anticipated action. Still, it must be noted, that it is nicely balanced. There are enough action movies in which we get so many shootouts and fights that they actually lose their special touch, and you can even get bored - one example would be "Carter". In "Ballerina", everything is just right in this respect. The finale is surprisingly pleasing in a perfidious way, and the movie also manages to be bloody when the baser human instincts for revenge need to be satisfied. The action is fast as well as nicely edited, and the sound effects also make sure that every punch and shot feels like it would cause noticeable damage. Of course, there is a downside, though, because the fast editing and the wild camera work also mean that martial arts fans might be a bit disappointed. There are no long stunt sequences which will make you take your hat off to the actors, like in "John Wick 4", for example.

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Ballerina - Film Screenshot 10

But when it comes to action, "Ballerina" knows that less is sometimes more. In addition, director Lee Chung-hyun ("The Call") manages to convince us with the fact that he has his own style, even though he might have copied something here and there, which, honestly, is unavoidable with this genre. In addition, as the last confrontation arises, the story is also about the fact that there are women who do not submit to victimhood. Even though all the men may be gangsters here, you still don't get the feeling that "Ballerina" is simplifying things or wants to push a message at the end. The message, if you want to see one here, is simply the revenge story, just as it was the case in Hong Kong cinema of bygone times. So, would there really have been a need for a movie like "Ballerina"? Maybe not necessarily, but it's a well-done entry into the genre and offers a thrilling revenge story in a modernized way focusing on a female killer. So, it's highly recommended for genre fans.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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