Netflix movie review: Ballerina – Korean actress Jeon Jong-seo reunites with The Call director to play an assassin in slick and gory thriller

3/5 stars

A female assassin sets out to avenge her best friend’s death the only way she knows how in The Call director Lee Chung-hyun’s slickly executed thriller.
Reuniting with leading lady Jeon Jong-seo ( Burning), Ballerina is a lean and unflinching exercise in neon and blood-drenched action that should sate fans of such movies, despite lacking the genre-bending originality of Lee’s attention-grabbing debut.
In years to come, Ballerina may find itself vying for attention alongside Len Wiseman’s coming John Wick spin-off of the same name, slated to star Ana de Armas in a similar role and hit cinemas screens in the summer of 2024.
For the time being, Lee’s film already owes a huge debt to forerunners in this super-stylised space, most notably Luc Besson’s Nikita, Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive.

Jeon stars as Ok-ju, a laconic loner who has parted ways with the shadowy international organisation that trained her to be a remorseless killing machine. Her quiet, solitary existence is disrupted when, out of the blue, she receives a call from Min-hee (Park Yu-rim), a ballerina with whom she was once very close.

Park Yu-rim (front) in a still from “Ballerina”. Photo: Yoo Eun Mi/Netflix

On arrival at her flat, Ok-ju discovers Min-hee has taken her own life, leaving behind only a cryptic message asking her friend to avenge her. Ok-ju is directed to a drug dealer known as Chef Choi (Kim Ji-hoon), and from there descends into a maelstrom of organised crime, perverse exploitation and bloody violence.

There is no denying that Ballerina feels like Lee is pirouetting in the wrong direction after his endlessly inventive time-travel horror mash-up The Call.

Too many of the film’s tropes, from the handsome, wealthy, emotionally detached villain onwards, have long since become tired, overused clichés; it can be frustrating to see them employed so enthusiastically in a script that offers precious little invention beneath its shimmering surface.

Kim Ji-hoon in a still from “Ballerina”. Photo: Yoo Eun Mi/Netflix

Jeon’s cold-as-ice angel of vengeance is the film’s saving grace. Ok-ju’s nonplussed half-pout of unfazed disinterest sits brilliantly at odds with the extreme violence she doles out to an endless parade of knife-wielding goons. Her ability to garner so much empathy while emoting so little is a testament to Jeon’s bewitching screen presence.

Had Lee dared to explore the depths of her relationship with Min-hee further, rather than merely imply that, for Ok-ju at least, it was more than just platonic, the film might have been a genuine game-changer. As is, Ballerina is a polished yet disposable slice of ho-hum hokum.

Ballerina will start streaming on Netflix on October 6.

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