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Huntresses, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Girl power, seventheeth-century Korean style."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: When I was a bit younger, I absolutely ate things like "The Huntresses" up, and why not? It's a bright, colorful adventure starring three pretty girls who are quite capable of fighting their way out of their own jams using whimsical gadgets and weaponry. The bar is a bit higher today, not always to my benefit, but I still like this sort of thing when it's done well, and this one is good enough that I'd show it to my nieces if they were a bit older.

It posits a trio of three young women as the best bounty hunters in 17th-century Korea - fun-loving Hong-dan (Gang Ye-won), all-business Ga-bi (Son Ga-in), and team leader Jin-ok (Ha Ji-won), with former detective Mu-myeong (Ko Chang-seok) serving as their agent. Their latest and most lucrative job, though, is not to bring in a criminal but to find and safely escort a secret envoy carrying a stauroscope with vital military data safely back to the king. Thus far, treacherous Kim Ja-hun (Choi Seong-min) has intercepted all of the other envoys, and both he and henchman Sa-hyeon (Joo Sang-wook) have a history with Jin-ok.

The movie's opening gambit starts out with Jin-ok disguised as a man to get close to a target, but she and it are in full girl-power mode soon after, knocking soldiers down with combat yo-yos before making a daring escape to their cabin, where the Rube Goldberg device that converts the place into an impregnable fortress is decorated with cute accouterments. I'm probably not the ideal person to parse what sort of message this is sending to the young girls in the audience, but it seems more for them than guys looking to ogle; the team is only relying being pretty in one scene, capable without all having to be perfect all the time, and they don't stumble out of particularly feminine weakness. I like that Jin-ok being a maker isn't her defining odd trait and that Hong-dan having a husband is kind of incidental to them as a group. It seems pretty positive to me, although I also kind of wish the word "bitch" didn't appear in the subtitles as often as it does.

The ladies themselves are an enjoyable group. The story pushes Jin-ok to the front, and Ha Ji-won is up to it; she handles the heavier material that gets dropped onto her character by the end without falling into the boring intense/serious mode that often afflicts protagonists of fun movies when their plot gets darker; there's always at least an undercurrent of the energy that grabs the audience early on. Gang Ye-won and Son Ga-in get to be more purely goofy and combative as the other members of the team, funny without being jokes themselves, and capable of good odd-couple banter. They've got some fun people to bounce off, with Ko Chang-seok kind of a specialist in big, whimpering guys (here with extra funny beard) and Song Sae-byeok the obligatory boy tagging along because it's his job and he likes one of the girls. Choi Seong-min oozes fine slime as the villain.

The action is plentiful and fun, especially since all of the ladies are more inclined to wade in there to swing swords and throw punches rather than hanging back or sneaking around. Director Park Je-hyun fills the screen during melees, and he's also pretty canny with ramping up the seriousness of it; while the early scenes are mostly just knocking people around, they are using the sharp part of the sword later. They're still fun, creative scenes - even the big final confrontation between Ja-hun and Jin-ok has the latter swinging from the masts of a ship using her yo-yos - so it's not like everything has become deadly serious.

As much as I appreciate things staying upbeat, the movie does occasionally walk a thin line between bright and garish. Some of that may be a matter of taste - twelve-year-old girls could very well love the look of this movie - I do think it looks kind of chintzy in spots. It's got the feeling that bits which slowed things down were cut out, especially in terms of giving Hong-dan and Ga-bi their own side-stories, leaving a bit of a visible gap when they're referred to in the end. There's a pretty harmless-seeming gag that I wouldn't be shocked to see cut for American release because blackface sets some people here off even if it's not actually mocking.

I smiled more often than not, and while I didn't love it, I'm probably two or three times the age of its mostly-female target audience. It's cute and fun, and that's all it needs to be.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=27295&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/25/14 01:23:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Jae-Hyun Park

Written by
  Ga-young Kim
  Cheol-gyu Kang
  Ba-da Kim

Cast
  Ji-won Ha
  Ye-won Kang
  Ga-in Son
  Sang-uk Ju
  Chang-seok Ko
  Sae-Byeok Song



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