Slick, sick, and swift revenge thriller ‘Ballerina’ dishes out solid revenge thrills with ruthless efficiency. Okju (Jun Jong-Seo) is a former private bodyguard with exceptional fight skills (as the blistering opening scene highlights!) who discovers her close friend Min-hee (Park Yoo-Rim), a once promising ballerina, has committed suicide. A note left by Min-hee asks Okju to get revenge for her with a clue suggesting that a local gangster may have something to do with Min-hee killing herself. After some recon, Okju confirms said gangster Choi Pro (Kim Ji-Hoon) is the culprit: a violent deviant who has been abusing women, filming said abuse, and selling the footage to other scumbags. Thus, Okju puts in place a plan to take down Choi Pro and make him pay for all the pain he’s caused.
Yet as is often the case, the path to rightful vengeance isn’t easy and Lee Chung-Hyeon’s film pushes its protagonist to ever darker limits to achieve this goal. A heady mix of slick, pulsing beat-backed visuals, violent action and a descent into a dark criminal underworld, ‘Ballerina’ may be set up as a simple tale of revenge but unravels a darker tale of organized crime as its lead pushes herself to extreme limits to exact revenge. It’s a dark ride but buoyed with propulsive urgency and a fantastic lead performance from Jun Jong-Seo playing the seemingly laid back Okju who is in fact a ruthless killing machine. The story doesn’t delve too much into her background and how she became such a great bodyguard/assassin, but flashbacks fill in the relationship she and Min-hee had and why it’s so important she gets revenge.
Lee Chung-Hyeon has a knack for cool visuals and the pulsing soundtrack propels the drama and action, creating an almost cool 80s vibe. There is a lot of cool on display not least with the soundtrack, Okju cruising around on her motorcycle, and the bad guys all slick as if in a heightened reality. However, Lee Chung-Hyeon brings the violence and there is a dark (and often uncomfortable) tone underlying everything: the abuse/sex trafficking subplot letting one know these are some very bad people. It may be a bit much for some looking for a quick action fix but it adds weight to the simple story setup and the flick still delivers some serious, blade-tinged action. One thing the flick does do well is the bad guys get what they deserve, no punches pulled when Okju dishes out vengeance.
At ninety minutes it may be slight for some (though the urgency adds to the tension/narrative) and some will no doubt want to know more about the lead’s backstory (though this rarely hinders proceedings) and the dark tone may be somewhat uncomfortable for those just looking for entertaining thrills (though there is a little levity peppered throughout: in particular the elderly gun dealers that arm Okju for her mission raise a smile!). A little more action and one less “cool” song layered over the action scenes (should have stuck with the pulsing beat instrumental!) would have been preferable but otherwise ‘Ballerina’ is satisfyingly slick South Korean action that even hints at a (welcome) sequel.