The Other One is an overcomplicated affair, but also a hyper-stylized and thrillingly violent one, and further proof that American blockbuster cinema is lagging.
Released in 2018, Park Hoon-jung’s The Witch: Part 1 — The Subversion proved a sizeable hit in its native South Korea, and garnered something of a cult following once it hit Netflix here in the U.S. An enticing concoction of Stephen King’s Firestarter, Marvel’s X-Men comics, a dash of Stranger Things-style YA, and some startlingly graphic violence, The Subversion chronicled the awakening of a young woman with remarkable telekinetic powers and her vicious campaign of retribution against the secret cabal of scientists who created her. Considering that it was released with “Part 1” in the title and ended on a cliffhanger, a second part was virtually guaranteed (barring catastrophic box office failure, one assumes). After four long years of mostly Covid-related delays, The Witch 2: The Other One has finally been unleashed, and, thankfully, it’s pretty good. One of The Subversion’s more unique elements was its largely bifurcated structure; a relatively slow-paced first half took the time to build up the characters and their familial dynamic before switching gears with an elaborate set piece that revealed the full extent of Goo Ja-yoon’s (Kim Da-mi) powers. The Other One doesn’t expand upon Ja-yoon’s story, but instead sets about on an enormous world-building project, complete with a multitude of new characters and several elaborate flashbacks that hint at storylines that will presumably take shape and/or coalesce in an inevitable “Part 3.”
The Other One begins with a flashback set “a long time ago” that shows a busload of teenagers being gassed and kidnapped by the shadowy organization we first saw in The Subversion. Flash-forward a few decades, and a team of mercenaries is massacring test subjects at a research facility. Somehow, one of the victims makes it out alive and stumbles across a woman who’s being terrorized by thugs. The mysterious young woman is Cynthia (Shin Si-ah), who has no memories of her life before escaping her attempted killers, and she winds up saving Kyung-hee (Park Eun-bin), a woman who has returned to South Korea after years abroad to protect her dead father’s ranch from local gangster Yong-du (Jin Goo). Kyung-hee has an aloof, standoffish younger brother, Dae-gil (Sung Yoo-bin), who is angry at her for abandoning their family but befriends Cynthia and teaches her about the world (mainly through YouTube videos, including an amusing recurring bit where Cynthia discovers that she loves junk food). As all of this is going on, we also follow the adventures of soldier Jo-hyeon (Seo Eun-soo) and her second-in-command, Justin John Harvey, as they hunt down and assassinate other super-powered experimental subjects like Cynthia at the behest of Dr. Baek (Jo Min-su, playing the twin sister of the character she portrayed in The Subversion). Then there’s another group of super-powered assassins who are hunting down Cynthia for their own reasons, and are, it seems, under the command of a rival of Dr. Baek.
Got all that? It is an extremely complicated plot, far too convoluted for its own good, as if writer-director Park Hoon-jung needed to cram what feels like a season’s worth of narrative into 137 minutes. It’s occasionally confusing, and unless you’ve seen The Subversion recently, some of these narrative connections might very well be lost. There’s also entirely too much time spent on Kyung-hee and Dae-gil dealing with Yong-du, who tries increasingly violent measures to acquire their land before Cynthia reveals her powers and maims dozens of his thugs. Thankfully, the action here is both frequent and extremely brutal. Park composes clean, precise framings and emphasizes the full heft of impact, as super-strong beings slam each other through trees, walls, cars, etc. Eventually, all of these disparate characters descend on the ranch, and the film’s grand finale is one long set piece that finds killers with regenerative abilities slicing and dicing each other, hacking at limbs and necks and unloading buckets of bullets into heads and just brushing it all off like it’s nothing. There’s plenty of Akira vibes, and the hyper-stylized realization of these people’s powers recall Zack Snyder’s designs for the Kryptonians in Man of Steel, blurred figures that zip from one side of the frame to another in the blink of an eye. There’s plenty of CGI being used, but unlike similar properties in the U.S., the special effects are designed for maximum impact and integrated with practical appliances (i.e. squibs & prosthetics). There’s a variety of textures on display, a very nice change of pace from the green-screen soundstage/industrial gray airport aesthetic of the MCU. This is, ultimately, just another franchise picture, not aimed at adults so much as adolescents who can get into R-rated movies on their own. But it’s so much slicker, and so much more vigorous, than anything that any American studio is making. The prevailing international cinema narrative might suggest that the rest of the world is trying to catch up to American blockbusters, but something like this or the recent RRR would suggest that they’re already doing it even better. Bring on Part 3.