Popular Korean star Ha Ji Won returns with “The Huntresses”, an action comedy which transplants the “Charlie’s Angels” formula to the Joseon dynasty, with Kang Ye Won (“Ghost Sweepers”) and actress/singer Son Gain (“Closer to Heaven”) joining her as legendary bounty hunters. Marking the first outing for “Gingko Bed 2” director Park Je Hyun in a decade, the film is a big budget popcorn affair that packs in the wacky gags and silliness along with plenty of explosive set pieces.
Ha Ji Won plays Jin Ok, the leader of a trio of bounty hunters that also includes housewife Hong Dan (Kang Ye Won) and the young Ga Bi (Son Gain), whose agent (Ko Chang Seok, “Over my Dead Body”) lands them in serious trouble when their latest job turns out to be part of a wide reaching and deadly conspiracy. Tasked with tracking down a missing envoy of the king and a mysterious stauroscope, the girls are soon fighting off assassins as they try to get to the bottom of the plot, which sets Jin Ok up against a face from the past (Joo Sang Wook, “Days of Wrath”) as well as the villain responsible for the death of her father.
Don’t expect any kind of feminism with “The Huntresses”, as its three stars are primarily here as eye candy rather than anything even vaguely substantial, playing the kind of unlikely stereotypes that allows them to be tough and highly skilled fighters while at the same time ditzy girls who would be just as at home in a shopping mall as taking down hordes of incompetent henchmen. Waltzing through the film in a variety of costumes (including an amusingly gratuitous scene in which they pose as belly dancers), none of the heroines have much in the way of character development, and the film is a feather-light affair that lacks any emotional engagement or punch. It’s an at times odd mix, with scenes of violence and torture standing shoulder to shoulder with daft gags and cuteness, resulting in a wildly uneven tone and overall lack of coherence.
To be fair, Park Je Hyun seems only too aware of the film’s many absurdities, and clearly wasn’t taking any of it too seriously, going for a kitchen sink type approach with a high energy feel and cheerful air of lunacy. Park directs with a great deal of style, randomly throwing in a great many different flashy visual technique and editing, giving the film a comic book look that sits well with its amiable frivolity. What must have been a pretty decent budget is put to good use, and the film has a number of enjoyably over the top action sequences scattered throughout its fast moving and efficient running time, with some solid CGI work making for a few reasonably spectacular money shots.
It’s unsurprisingly the three female leads who really carry the film, and who lift the material up several notches with their charismatic performances. Ha Ji Won shows again why she’s remained such a popular star over the last decade, and though she doesn’t really have much to do dramatically, she at least ensures that Jin Ok’s predictable personal journey is fun to watch. Kang Ye Won and Son Gain are similarly good value for money, and though their roles never amount to much aside from a few half-hearted subplots, both are likeable enough.
Though it could certainly be criticised for a lack of ambition and for not really taking advantage of its fine cast and robust budget, “The Huntresses” generally succeeds in providing a brisk hour and forty five minutes of lively action and jovial nonsense. Fans of Ha Ji Won and the other leads should certainly find plenty to enjoy, and undemanding viewers looking for a straightforward piece of entertaining fluff could definitely do worse.
Jae-Hyun Park (director)
CAST: Ji-won Ha … Jin-ok
Ye-won Kang … Hong-don
Ga-in Son … Gabi