[HanCinema's Hall of Fame Review] "The Huntresses": A Dynastic Disaster
There was a great deal of hype and hope at the start of the year around the string of Joseon-inspired films that were on their way. The first of which was Park Je-hyeon's "The Huntresses", a Charlie's Angels-infused action adventure starring Ha Ji-won, Kang Ye-won, Son Ga-in, and Ko Chang-seok. "The Huntresses" appeared to have a delectable mixture of talent, genre and energy, but the film tragically tanked. It was strategically released over the Lunar New Year holiday but, instead of Park's bombastic offering, it was Hwang Dong-hyuk's "Miss Granny" that Korean cinephiles flocked to (a comedy drama that went onto attract over 8.6M filmgoers and is still the highest grossing Korean film of the year). And after two disappointing weeks the film crashed out of the top ten with just 473K admissions to its name.
The film follows a trio of martially skilled, and aesthetically pleasing, bounty hunters as they attempt to track down a highly coveted map. This strange cubic compass reveals its secrets when a light is passed through it and is the object of desire for a traitorous official hoping to supplant the current king by selling it to the highest, foreign, bidder--in this case the Qing Emperor. The girls' spokesperson, Moo-myeong played by Ko Chang-seok, is tasked by his majesty to recover the stolen artefact, and his team of deadly divas are more than up for the task. However, the band of assassins/traitors who have intercepted the prize have a dark history with Jin-ok, the angel's 'leader', and the pursuit soon becomes personal.
Have no doubt that "The Huntresses" is a visually intoxicating and jolly romp around Joseon. The film's screenwriters (Kang Cheol-gyoo, Kim Ba-da, and Kim Ga-yeong-I) have produced a stupefying simple story that makes few demands on the audience (other than to sit back and have their eyes rot within their skulls as passive participants to excess). The sickeningly sweet eye-candy I'm referring to goes beyond the angels themselves, as Park bombards our senses with an assortment of special effects, transitions, and camerabatics that dazzling tries to distract from its own lack of substance. One need only indulge in the film's pre-title pretentiousness to know that what follows is little more than well-researched smoke, mirrors and masking tape.
The lavish street settings, lurid Joseon attire, and questionable anachronisms are a delight in their own right, but such insertions proved to be nothing more than superfluous glamour on an otherwise shallow spectacle. The characters also struggled to free themselves from the dry dialogue and dreary exposition Park imposed, inadequacies that were poorly hidden behind action antics and slapstick silliness (a part that Song Sae-byeok dutifully played, typified in one scene whereby his character attempts mouth-to-beak resuscitation on a placid pigeon--pointless, especially since [spoiler] the pigeon still perishes). The shadows on screen failed to even hint at a third dimension, leaving the optimistic observer no choice but to submit to Park's hyperactive assault on the senses.
It was a watery waste of a promising premise that could have been a real stub-guzzler. Sadly though, Park's Joseon jesting goes too far too quickly without much minding, resulting in a dynastic disaster that disappoints. Some may enjoy the hyperbolic hysteria on offer, but for most "The Huntresses" will prove limp and too lavish to love.
Avaialble on DVD (No English subtitle) from YESASIA