At a theatre of an evening you may chance upon a troupe of dainty ballerinas tiptoeing gracefully to Swan Lake.
Yet swans are known both for their beauty and for their vicious nature when provoked. Ballerina, the Korean revenger movie slickly packaged by Netflix, is about to break your arm with its wing.
What Is Ballerina About?
Former tough as nails bodyguard Jang Ok-ju (Jeon Jong-seo) receives a call from her only friend Choi Min-hee (Park Yu-rim), long since fallen out of touch.
But on turning up at Min-hee’s place Ok-ju finds her friend’s invitation was a final one.
She left behind only a note directing Ok-ju to exact singular vengeance on her tormentor. Which really is the start and end of the plot.
Taking a bare bones approach, Ballerina is a revenger movie that exists much more on style than substance. Trading on style isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the John Wick movies have shown what slick production and a cool star can do to inflate simple survival.
Ballerina trades heavily off of Jeon Jong-seo’s crystallised presence. Ok-ju’s loneliness is introduced in the opening scenes. After she systematically demolishes some would be thieves there is nothing to do but slope home.
Even though she is set on the revenge path to honour a friend, it is made very clear that this is likely the only friend she’s ever had.
Jong-seo exudes both the physicality and damaged mentality needed to tie us in to her journey. Her calm methodical approach, exploding into vicious violence, is compelling.
It also helps that Ballerina has a suitably odious target for her righteous rage: sex trafficker Choi Pro (Kim Ji-hoon).
Ji-hoon does not miss an opportunity to be as slappable as possible; his expressiveness even from within a gimp mask is impressive.
Notwithstanding his slimy entrapments and perversions, Choi Pro’s inflated sense of importance make his eventual brutal puncturing all the more satisfying.
Ballerina Official Trailer
Is Ballerina Worth Watching?
Visually, Ballerina takes more than a little inspiration from the John Wick series. Prominent set lighting and extensive use of slow, wide-angled lens shots ensure that as much screen capital as possible is given to drinking in the sets.
Such sets may be fewer than the big budget fare that Ballerina is bumming its style from, but within its small scale the eye-catching visuals work well to create a sense of gravitas.
In particular the titular ballerina framing gives an excuse for gorgeously danced and shot scenes.
Even with a short 93 minutes runtime Ballerina struggles to keep its pirouette going. The relationship between Ok-ju and Min-hee is filled in with soft focus flashbacks that add little actual texture beyond a bland angelic quality.
A sequence involving Ok-ju tooling up for the big fight by buying rusty old guns from an elderly couple invokes a slight comedic bent, sadly quickly dispensed with.
Perhaps sensing that it is thin on the ground, director and writer Lee Chung-hyun drafts in a second act addition as Ok-ju inadvertently rescues one of Choi Pro’s captive girls.
Shin Se-hwi as simply ‘High School Student’ is airdropped in from another film entirely. Her defiant and bratty attitude is at odds with both her circumstances and Ok-ju’s demeanour, ultimately adding nothing to the film.
Thankfully, as Ballerina is a zippy movie these shortcomings don’t have time to really undermine what is otherwise a solid and stylish revenger.
The action choreography has sinew-snapping weight and Ok-ju’s ruthless approach, particularly with the boss man of the organisation, is grin-worthy.
If you are looking for a revenger that exacts justice with all due brutality, then Ballerina will set your evening ablaze.
Words by Mike Record
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