Seems that I’m still on a Martial Arts kick here at the ol’ Litterbox… so this time out it’s a look at the 2014 Korean “Charlie’s Angles” inspired period Action/ Comedy, “The Huntresses”. Fierce, pretty, and totally spunky ladies playing at Martial Arts and bounty hunting in Josean Korea? Yeah… I’m definitely up for some of that. My assumption is that there are probably a lot of you regular Gentle Visitors who might just agree…. 😉
Our synopsis goes like this here: “Three intelligent and talented beauties, the amazing swords-woman Jin-ok, housewife and deadly fighter Hong-dan, and the rebellious young tomboy Ga-bi, are the 17th century Joseon dynasty’s top bounty hunters, and they never fail to capture a target, no matter the criminal or the crime. Together, they set out on a secret mission commissioned by the king of Korea to search for the stauroscope, and in doing so, prevent a dastardly group from gaining absolute power and overturning the royal family on behalf of the evil minions of the Qing Emperor of China.”
OK then… sounds pretty straightforward. Warrior Princess Neko is always up for almost any movie featuring plucky Martial Art heroines whupping the snot out of slimy villainous bad guys and saving the day for Truth, Justice and Love so it’s fairly certain from the Trailer that I’m probably exactly the audience they were shooting for with this one. 😉 So… hey… without any further adieu, Gentle Visitors, let’s frolic off to 17th century Korea and check out all the fun.
Our movie gets going in one of those little “Intro” bits, like the ones at the beginning of a James Bond film where a small scene is played out that really doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the story. It’s just there to give us all a feeling for the characters, the overall “feeling” of the script and a chance for some neat action stuff to get the ball rolling. It’s quite the goofy opening too… as our ladies try to snatch their latest quarry off the streets and end up running afoul of their bounty hunting competition. There’s a cool wire-fu fight with a killer yo-yo… and a breakneck chase scene that let’s the girls do all the cool anachronistic video game inspired stuff that tell you right away that any hope for an accurate portrayal of Josean Korea is something probably best left for a whole other movie. 😉
And that’s not a bad thing really. “The Huntresses” is, for the most part, a much more lighthearted film than most swordplay stories, letting things move along briskly with a wink and a nod, and more than a little bit of comedy to water down the violence. A few minutes into it, and you’ll recognize it’s biggest inspiration immediately… the 70’s classic TV show “Charlie’s Angels”.
Yep… our feisty trio of ladies are most definitely the “Angels”… deadly sword-fighter, genius inventor and master of disguises Jin-ok (played by Ha Ji-won) is the leader of the group, backed up by the mercenary bored housewife and fighter Hong-dan (played by Kang Ye-won), and rounded out by the “chip-on-her-shoulder” rebel tomboy Ga-bi (played by Son Ga-in of the Koren K-pop girl group Brown Eyed Girls). And our story’s “Charlie” ? Well filling that slot is the goofy and generally inept ex-constable Mu-myeong (played by Ko Chang-seok). When the story begins, the girls appear to be employed by Mu-myeong to do all the actual dangerous bounty hunting stuff while he collects the lion’s share of the money acting as their agent and arranging things through the contacts he still has as an ex cop. However… once the girls discover just how much of their hard won money always seems to disappear into his split, they determine to cut him out of the latest deal he offers them. A simple snatch and grab of some low level crook with a suspiciously high bounty on his head.
Little do they know, this seemingly unimportant “nobody” is in fact actually a secret envoy in the service of the Korean King, intrusted with the delivery of a fancy doodad called the “stauroscope” which contains a map of the deployment of the Qing Emperor’s Manchu army that has kept Korea from gaining true independence from China. Sounds like something people would kill to lay their hands on? Oh yeah…. 🙂
Naturally that will pit our beautiful trio against rival bounty hunters thirsting for that juicy payday… evil mercenaries in the pay of the Manchus… and a treasonous Korean noble with aspirations to the throne. Oh yes… plenty of bad guys for our ladies to fight… and even perhaps fall in love with. Yes, yes… of course there’s just gotta be some sweet, sweet romance somewhere in a story like this… and a little tragic melodrama too.
That melodrama is all about Jin-ok… who in her own tragic backstory watched her father die at the hands of her own childhood sweetheart… a servant boy named Sa-hyeon… in an effort to save her from being killed instead by her father’s enemy. She thought he died that night too, only to discover that he’s all grown up and now the chief henchman of that same villainous noble Kim Ja-hun (played by Choi Seong-min) now plotting to usurp the throne.
Naturally they run into one another on one of those dark and rainy nights as the girls try to make their getaway after first finding the prize… and naturally that reunion isn’t a happy one. Shockingly, Sa-hyeon (played by Joo Sang-wook) nearly kills her, having no idea who she is, since he completely lost his memory after striking his head on that terrible night all those years ago. Really? Amnesia? Yep… hey… I guess it’s a classic old cliche worth one more trip around the track, Hehehe!!
Thankfully our other budding romance is less fraught with the constant and imminent possibility of death. That would be the kooky and inexplicable attraction between violent lil’ Ga-bi and hapless undercover policeman Song (played by Song Sae-byeok). She’s a feisty little spitfire more at home beating people up than kissing them, and he’s probably the worst investigative officer alive with some sort of idiot savant skill at camouflage. He’s supposed to just follow them around unobserved hoping they’ll lead him to the stauroscope, but despite his uncanny ability to fade into the background, he keeps getting spotted by the girls. Ga-bi finds him annoying at first, but something about the hapless boob soon has her heart beating all pitter-pat. Sigh… he’s just got that same sort of silly clueless puppy quality that you take one look at and can’t help but fall in love with.
It’s easy enough to guess that by our film’s climax Jin-ok will manage to reawaken Sa-hyeon’s memories of their young love just in time for the shit to hit the fan. There’s one more big “twist” to come as well, but Neko’s not going to spoil things for you by giving it all away. 😉
It is safe to say that the evil Manchus blow it… the villain gets his just reward… and out heroines manage save Korea and make some well deserved loot. C’mon… as if there was ever any doubt.
So all in all, how did it work as a movie? Well here my sweetie Carolyn and I disagreed a wee bit. She liked that action, the comedy, the crazy anachronistic “steampunky” feel of it all, but found the romantic melodrama of Jin-ok and Sa-hyeon a bit toooooo darn dark and complicated, not to mention being a little hokey. Now me… I’m more than a bit used to the somewhat overblown way Asian films love to ladle on the melodrama and work it for all it’s worth… so I wasn’t bothered by it the way she was. She felt that the seriousness of that particular subplot wasn’t all that compatible with the lighter moments that dominated the film. If you aren’t the Asian film junkie that a certain wee Catgirl is, you just might agree. For me, taken as a whole, it worked well enough and gave a bit of meat to what would have otherwise been just a fun and fluffy film.
What was disappointing though… at least for Warrior Princess Neko… was the painfully obvious lack of any real martial Art skills on the part of our lead actresses. Clever wire-work and good fight and stunt choreography along with skilled film editing can work wonders… and they do here.. but they are still no substituted for the real thing. (Oh well… I’m probably still on a adrenaline high from “The Raid 2”.) The acting is pretty good, and I can say I enjoyed seeing Ha Ji-won doing another swordplay film. It’s been a while since “Duelist”… and this suited her so much better than her role in “Sector 7”. I could stand to see her at it again sometime.
With that, I’d say it’s safe to give “The Huntresses” a firm 3 out of 5 “Meows”. It was a fun film, with plenty of goofy stuff to enjoy and a group of female heroines that were both likeable and sympathetic, if a wee bit cardboard. The DVD? Well… the original Korean release actually came out without English subtitles… something nearly unheard of, so I had to snag the region 3 Malay release. It was both widescreen and letterboxed with accurate enough English subtitles, more than adequate for my needs. About the only goofy thing was the way that the Malay subtitling constantly and consistently substituted the word “witch” for what I’m assuming actually was supposed to be “bitch”. I’m guessing that it was done in much the same way Hindi discs always seem to weirdly change profanities into something less accurate. Who knows? In any way… that minor change doesn’t affect the translation enough to be a problem, so I can let it slide. The nice thing is of course that the Malay DVD is sooooo much more budget friendly than a Korean one would have been. It’s available for right around 10$ US most places you’d expect, and if you’ve a mind to give this one a try, it ought to do nicely for you too.
With that than, I’m off till next time… however… naturally there’s just enough time to squeeze in a Trailer for those of you still curious enough to want a quick look-see of your own. 😉