Review: ‘Decibel’ (2022), starring Kim Rae-won, Lee Jong-suk, Jung Sang-hoon, Park Byung-eun and Cha Eun-woo

December 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kim Rae-won in “Decibel” (Photo courtesy of Shaw Entertainment Group)

“Decibel” (2022)

Directed by Hwang In-ho

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Korea, the action film “Decibel” features an all-South Korean cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A former lieutenant commander of the Korean Navy is targeted by a terrorist bomber who has planted several bombs in public places, and the bombs will detonate if the decibel reaches a certain level in each place.

Culture Audience: “Decibel” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching well-paced action flicks that occasonally get far-fetched but will keep viewers in suspense.

Lee Jong-suk in “Decibel” (Photo courtesy of Shaw Entertainment Group)

If you want to watch a movie about a race against time before several bombs go off, then “Decibel” is fairly good choice. It has some predictable moments, but the thrilling action and solid acting performances bring this suspenseful ‘hunt for a terrorist bomber’ movie into an above-average level. Don’t expect anything groundbreaking in the story though. The movie has a few plot twists that aren’t as surprising as intended.

Directed by Hwang In-ho (who co-wrote the “Decibel” screenplay with Lee Jin-hoon), “Decibel” sticks to a familiar formula that similar movies have already followed. An unhinged terrorist is setting off bombs and is threatening to kill more people by bombing. Someone with a background in law enforcement or the military emerges as the leader who is most likely to find the culprit. And before the end of the movie, there are many chase scenes and physical fights.

In “Decibel,” the bomber has used the tactic of planting his bombs in public areas and making his bombs get triggered if the decibel in the area reaches a certain level. The bomber has decided to target Kang Do-young (played by Kim Rae-won), a former lieutenant commander of the Korean Navy. Do-young, a respected and retired military official, has been hailed as a hero who was credited with saving 22 of the 44 men who died on a sinking submarine ship named Roks Halla that was under command.

The official cause of the ship sinking was that it was a rare accident. There are flashbacks throughout the movie that show what happened on the ship, which was trapped underwater for several days. One of the Korean Navy officers who was part of the Roks Halla crew was Jeon Tae-ryong (played by Cha Eun-woo), a submarine sound detection officer whose skills were crucial in determining the activities and sound levels outside the sunken submarine.

And when Do-young starts getting calls from an anonymous bomber who dares Do-young to find the bombs before they explode, it’s pretty obvious that Do-young is being targeted for a reason. What the bomber looks like is revealed in the trailer for “Decibel” and early on in the movie, but it’s not revealed until near the end of the film what his motives are. It’s later revealed that is name is Jung Tae-sung (played by Lee Jong-suk), who remains anonymous to Do-young and law-enforcement officials up until a certain point in the movie.

Tae-sung communicates mainly through phone calls that he places to Do-young. Tae-sung knows a lot about Do-young and the Korean Navy to make it obvious that Tae-sung has some connection to the Korean Navy. This terrorist bomber is cold and calculating. However, the movie makes it too obvious why Tae-sung chose Do-young to get these phone calls about the bombs.

Tae-sung has placed bombs in places such as a public aquarium, a stadium during a soccer match, a public swimming pool and a playground. Tae-sung calls Do-young to taunt him and give him somewhat of a head start to see if So-young will be successful in getting the place evacuated and finding the bomb on time before it detonates. In one of the movie’s gripping sequences, Tae-sung tells Do-young that he has to choose between going to the public swimming pool or the playground to find the planted bomb, because Tae-sung has decided that both bombs could go off at the same time.

Do-young isn’t on the hunt alone for this terrorist bomber. Cha Young-han (played by Park Byung-eun) is the agent in charge of the Defense Security Support Command. Viewers of “Decibel” will see a lot of scenes with Young-han running around in business suits with other suit-wearing agents, as he barks orders and gets frustrated that Do-young has taken it upon himself to be the hero of this mission. Young-han is a bomb expert, but Do-young is not, as Young-han likes to remind Do-young.

Do-young also gets an unlikely sidekick during this frantic search for the bombs and the bomber. A journalist named Oh Dae-oh (played by Jung Sang-hoon) has decided to tag along with Do-young because Dae-oh wants an exclusive, eyewitness story about the hunt for this bomber. Do-young thinks Dae-oh is an annoying distraction and tries to get this persistent journalist to leave. But Dae-oh refuses to leave, which results in multiple scenes of (action movie cliché alert) the untrained person who is along for the ride with the hero and gets frightened and agitated the most because this newbie is not prepared to fight the villains.

“Decibel” also has another cliché subplot that involves who gets kidnapped and taken hostage. Do-young’s wife is Jang Yoo-jung (played by Lee Sang-hee), who happens to be an explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) sergeant for the Korean Navy. Yoo-jang and Do-young have a daughter named Seol-Young, who is about 9 or 10 years old. You can easily guess that Do-young’s family members will become targets of the bomber too.

Dae-oh’s wife (played by Kim Seul-ki, also known as Kim Seul-gi) is a police officer, who doesn’t believe that Dae-oh is on this dangerous mission, until she and her colleagues find out in a way that is of great embarrassment to her. The relationship between Dae-oh and his wife is the source of the movie’s comic relief. Dae-oh feels somewhat emasculated because he’s married to a police officer, so he feels he has to do something brave to prove his masculinity. These two spouses often bicker but they also love each other, which is why their arguments aren’t meant to be taken that seriously in the movie.

All of the cast members plays their roles in ways that make “Decibel” more interesting than a typical action flick. The obvious standouts are Kim and Lee as the “hero” and the “villain,” who are caught in a furious competition to outwit each other, with one character wanting to save lives, and the other character wanting to destroy lives. Kim is very skilled at conveying the intense pressure that Do-young feels in this life-or-death mission, while Lee has a flair for portraying a criminal who is so obsessed with his intentions, he no longer values human life. Jung is also quite good in his “Decibel” role where he has to balance drama and comedy as a journalist who gets more than he expected in pursuing an exclusive news story.

The high-octane action sequences of “Decibel” bring a lot of sizzle to this movie that has a very simple concept. The concept is wrapped in layers that unfold mainly in the flashbacks that reveal more clues about the terrorist’s motives. Although the answer to this mystery isn’t original or exceptionally clever, “Decibel” still brings some emotional gravitas to a story that could have easily been a hollow action movie if the filmmakers and cast members had mishandled everything.

Shaw Entertainment Group released “Decibel” in select U.S. cinemas on December 2, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on November 16, 2022.

Review: ‘The Witch 2: The Other One,’ starring Shin Si-ah, Park Eun-bin, Jin Goo, Seo Eun-soo and Sung Yoo-bin

September 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Shin Si-ah in “The Witch 2: The Other One” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“The Witch 2: The Other One”

Directed by Park Hoon-jung

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Korea and briefly in Shanghai, China, the sci-fi action film “The Witch 2: The Other One” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with one white South African) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A mysterious teenager is hunted by various people while she is being protected by a woman, her brother and their cohorts with their own agenda.

Culture Audience: “The Witch 2: The Other One” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the 2018 film “The Witch: Subversion” and sci-fi action movies that place more importance on violent chases than in creating interesting stories.

Seo Eun-soo and Justin John Harvey in “The Witch 2: The Other One” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

People don’t have to see 2018’s “The Witch: Subversion” before watching 2022’s “The Witch 2: The Other One,” because this sci-fi action sequel is so incoherent, it won’t make a difference. It’s just an idiotic, violent chase movie with no suspense. “The Witch 2: The Other One” is not a horror movie, as the title suggests, and is not scary at all. The only real horror that viewers might experience is finding out that this bloated movie is too long (137 minutes), considering how little entertainment value it has to offer.

Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung, “The Witch 2: The Other One” (which takes place in unnamed cities in South Korea) is yet another sci-fi movie about an individual who is being hunted by sinister forces that want to use the hunted individual in scientific experiments. In these types of predictable stories, the individual is one-of-a-kind or very rare. And the hunt to find this individual usually involves secretive government operations and/or a gang of criminals.

That’s the basic plot of “The Witch 2: The Other One,” which has a teenager who is just named Girl (played by Shin Si-ah) as the target of this hunt. The movie opens with Girl (who looks like she’s about 15 or 16 years old) on a school bus filled with 36 people, according to a TV news report shown later in the movie. She and the other students are from a school called Sanwol Fashion.

The bus is carjacked by about five men, who fill the bus with tear gas. About five to eight other men wearing hazmat suits then arrive and enter the bus. The next thing viewers see is Girl waking up in a scientific lab, where a TV news report says that the bus rolled off of a cliff, and everyone in the bus died. Everyone, that is, except for Girl.

At the lab, Girl sees a pregnant woman and asks her about the pregnancy. The woman replies, “It’s a girl. She will have a sister and become a twin. And those twins will have even more siblings.” In other words, Girl is being kept in a lab that is producing clones under a secret program called The Witch program. This isn’t spoiler information because the only real spoiler information is revealing where Girl came from, her true identity, and what happens to her at the end of the movie.

People who know about “The Witch: Subversion” know that there’s an evil scientist named Dr. Baek (played by Jo Min-su), who is in charge of this cloning. At the end of “The Witch Subversion” (spoiler alert) Dr. Baek is killed. But she has an identical twin, who’s also named Dr. Baek (also played by Jo Min-su) and who is the chief villain in “The Witch 2: The Other One.”

“The Witch 2: The Other One” so badly edited, the next time that viewers see Girl, it’s during a snowy winter, and she has woken up and sees her body has sustained bloody injuries. Girl doesn’t know or doesn’t remember how these injuries happened. She’s in a science lab in Shanghai, China, where several people have been massacred.

Meanwhile, Dr. Baek, who is in South Korea and now in a wheelchair, is having a conversation a young colleague named Jang (played by Lee Jong-Suk), who tells her that their secret cloning building Ark Main in Shanghai has been totally exposed. Jang adds, “Those fuckers busted the Shanghai lab and evaporated it … The Girl is unaccounted for … She walked out on her own … We’re fucked.” Viewers later find out that Girl has been given the name Ark 1 Datum Point at this Ark Main lab.

And the next thing you know, Girl is kidnapped again. This time, it’s when she’s walking all alone in a wooded area when she’s abducted by five men and one woman in a van. The woman, whose name is Kyung-hee (played by Park Eun-bin), is the fearless and tough leader of this group.

Kyung-hee’s full agenda is later revealed in the movie. But for now, all Girl knows is that Kyung-hee is protecting Girl from the people who want to send Girl back to the Ark Main lab. Some other people become involved during this chase movie that becomes very repetitive and tedious. Kyung-hee’s younger brother Dae-gil (played by Sung Yoo-bin) eventually comes into the picture in a pivotal role. There’s also a crime boss named Yong-doo (played by Jin Goo), who is an enemy of Kyung-hee and Dae-gil.

A female official named Jo-hyeon (played by Seo Eun-soo) has been tasked with finding Girl. Jo-hyeon’s right-hand man is an arrogant and dimwitted white South African (played by Justin John Harvey) who doesn’t have a name in the movie. He often argues with Jo-hyeon about strategy decisions.

Gun shootouts, hand-to-hand-combat, and explosions ensue. “The Witch 2: The Other One” is a just a noisy mess that ultimately has no originality whatsoever. All of the characters are barely two-dimensional, with the cast members giving unremarkable performances. If anyone has the patience to sit through this entire garbage dump of a movie, there’s an end credits scene with a “surprise” that basically announces that “The Witch 2: The Other One” is expected to have a sequel. You’ve been warned.

Well Go USA released “The Witch 2: The Other One” in select U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on June 15, 2022. “The Witch 2: The Other One” is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on November 8, 2022.

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