Slate (South Korea, 2020)

Rating: **
Review Date: 9/11/22
Cast: Ahn Ji-hye

A young woman's dream to become an action heroine comes true when she is magically transported to a parallel world and mistaken for a legendary swordsman named Soul Slayer. The parallel world is a bizarre mashup of feudal Japan with contemporary fashions and sensibilities, and Cha Heon-yee (Ahn Ji-hye) is effectively a wandering ronin who is trying to protect a village of farmers from a group of ruthless bandits, with a fake sword no less. Will her kendo skills be enough to protect herself and her new friends long enough to defeat the supernatural villain that terrorizes them?

While comparisons to "The Wizard Of Oz" (1939) are obvious, the "film within a film" also serves as a coming of age tale where Heon-yee learns that being a heroine is more than just fighting injustice and defending the weak. Heon-yee is very much an immature and irresponsible dreamer who sees the world through the eyes of a child. Her adventure in the parallel world is ultimately about her becoming an adult by defeating her own insecurities and delusions. She loses her innocence through violence and bloodshed as her childhood dreams and sense of wonder are shattered.

Although it's a good looking and well-made film, I had a difficult time enjoying it. It's been a while since I've seen a Korean film, and their sense of humor can be annoying and alienating if you're not prepared for it. Nearly all of the characters have a quirky goofiness about them, which is constantly at odds with the action and the setting. Some of the characters are downright irritating, and even Heon-yee struggles to be likable and relatable. That said, Ahn Ji-hye does a fantastic job and her immaculate hair is amazing throughout. Compared to the rest of the cast, she is so astonishingly attractive that she sticks out like a sore thumb. The action scenes are exciting and full of flair, but choppy editing spoils some of the fun. In an attempt to keep the viewer off-balance, the color palette is constantly shifting, which I'm sure is symbolic of something that I couldn't figure out. The soundtrack is obnoxiously grating and reminiscent of low budget Japanese films that try to be shocking and/or edgy, and the sound effects are a bit off in places, which results in some jarring and confusing scenes.

"Slate" is probably a film that I would enjoy more with multiple viewings so that I could set my expectations and filters appropriately, but right now I have no desire to watch it again. And if I did, it would only be for the fight scenes and Ahn Ji-hye's incredible hair.