Slate (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): The way of a heroine

South Korean independent film “Slate” is a little fun action fantasy tale which does its job better than expected in its modest genre playground. While clearly reminiscent of “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) due to its fantasy story premise, the movie brings enough style, humor, and personality to its familiar plot and characters, and it is alternatively funny and exciting as deftly swinging back and forth between comedy and drama.

At the beginning, we get to know about its heroine’s longtime personal aspiration. Since she was a little girl, Yeon-hee (Ahn Ji-hye) has dreamt of becoming an action movie star someday, but, alas, that dream of hers has seemed to be out of her reach for years no matter how much she tries. She has a rather impressive résumé thanks to many years of preparation, but nobody is particularly interested in hiring her, and she is not so pleased when her latest job interview turns out to be actually the one for the stand-in for the lead actress of some action film.

However, mainly because she really needs money at present, Yeon-hee has no choice but to agree to work as the stand-in. She subsequently goes to a certain spot where the director of that action film and its cast and crew members are supposedly working, but, to her bafflement, there is no one on the spot except her and her best friend who happens to accompany him.

While walking around in this place alone for a while, Yeon-hee comes across a certain small object, and then something quite strange happens. She is somehow transported to a sort of parallel world, and she is certainly flabbergasted when the place is now an ancient village full of anachronistic mood and details. At first, she thought they were just shooting the movie, but it does not take much time for her to realize what is going on around her, and she later encounters another figure who was also transported to this odd parallel world.

Meanwhile, Yeon-hee also gets involved in the troubling circumstance surrounding the chief of the village and many other villagers. For many years, these people have been harassed and exploited by some powerful gang organization, so they have hoped for someone mighty enough to save them from this ongoing predicament, and Yeon-hee happens to be mistaken for a legendary swordman. Although she knows well that she can actually get herself killed, Yeon-hee has no problem with being that legendary swordman because this may finally fulfill her longtime dream of being a heroine, and she boldly comes forward when the villagers are in danger again.

After having her first success from her clash with a bunch of petty bandits, Yeon-hee begins to enjoy her rather risky role-playing, but her opponents, led by a dying but powerful dude, turn out to be quite more dangerous than expected. In case of one particular opponent, this figure can exert some supernatural power besides wielding his lethal swordsmanship, and there is a creepy scene where he cruelly torments Yeon-hee via conjuring one painful personal nightmare for her.

In the meantime, things get a bit more complicated when that legendary swordman arrives in the village without getting noticed at all to his perplexity. While he soon comes to discern what Yeon-hee is doing, he does not do anything at all as focusing more on taking care of a little mute boy he happens to come across, but it goes without saying that he will eventually get involved in Yeon-hee’s situation.

As it enters its last chapter, the screenplay by Jo Bareun becomes a little more serious than before, but it never loses any sense of fun at all. While we cannot help but amused by its ridiculous fantasy setting, the movie keeps its straight face to the end, and, above all, it remains sincere about Yeon-hee’s gradual development along the story. As fighting with her opponents, she comes to face more of her fear and insecurity, and she actually comes to learn something valuable for her life and career around the time when she finally confronts the final villain of the story (Is this a spoiler?).

I must say that a number of action scenes are rather modest in terms of scale, but they are all well-executed on the whole, and it surely helps that many of its cast members actually put themselves into these action scenes. Thanks to that, the action scenes in the film feel mostly smooth and fluid without getting choppy at all, and we accordingly become more involved in the story and characters.

Besides looking quite convincing in these action scenes, Ahn Ji-hye ably carries the film, and she is also supported well by several colorful main cast members including Lee Min-ji, Park Tae-san, Jo Sun-ki, Jong Ho, and Lee Se-ho, who have each own little fun with their respective dual roles in the movie. Regardless of whether their roles are serious or not, they play as straight as possible, and that is the main reason why the movie works.

Overall, “Slate” is a fairly enjoyable genre piece equipped with enough wit, style, and heart, and it is a shame that the movie was quickly forgotten after it was released in South Korean theaters in last April without much noise. I regret missing at that time, but now I watched it, and I gladly recommend you to give it a chance someday.

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