The ending of Ballerina unveils the significance of Choi’s notebook, which contains vital information about his criminal activities and a list of targets for Ok-ju to pursue. Min-hee’s suicide and the incriminating videos discovered by Ok-ju shed light on the extent of Choi’s exploitation and provide insight into the reasons behind Min-hee’s distant behavior. The non-linear portrayal of Ok-ju and Min-hee’s relationship gradually unravels their deep bond, while the fish symbolism reflects Min-hee’s desire for freedom and the liberation achieved through Ok-ju’s revenge.
Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Ballerina.
Ballerina may appear as a straightforward revenge thriller with Ok-ju (Jun Jong-seo) ultimately avenging Min-hee’s (Park Yu-rim) death by killing Choi (Kim Ji-hoon). However, there’s more to the story, along with hidden symbolism, in this Netflix K-drama movie’s ending. Directed and written by South Korean filmmaker Chung-Hyun Lee for Netflix, Ballerina is a violent and stylish action film with a compelling narrative of revenge and liberation.
The protagonist of Ballerina, Ok-ju, is a skilled bodyguard who provides security services to VIP clients worldwide. This unique skill set is evident in the movie’s opening scene when she confronts a gang of thieves attempting to rob a convenience store. When she learns about the death of her close friend, who had wished for Ok-ju to seek revenge on Choi, the criminal who victimized her, Ok-ju ventures into the dark criminal underworld to take on a gang of drug dealers and sex traffickers in pursuit of justice for Min-hee.
Unveiling Choi’s Notebook
After eliminating Choi, Ok-ju returns to his residence to retrieve thumb drives containing videos of the women Choi exploited, thereby liberating them from his influence. She also stumbles upon a little black book filled with notes from Choi. The text in the book is in Korean, which might pose challenges for non-Korean readers. English subtitles highlight relevant sections of the notes, including references to time and location, such as “Fri 2:30 AM, Jamsu Bridge,” where Choi previously instructed Ok-ju (believing she was Min-hee) to meet him.
The notebook also features rows of screen names, some of which are identified as VIPs, along with designations like A or B, two different numbers, and either “pick” or “drop.” These likely represent customers, products, quantities, prices, and pick-up or drop-off instructions, respectively. It becomes evident that the little fish capsules Choi was selling were used to drug his victims before assaulting them and recording incriminating videos. This implies that all the customers in his black book were involved in similar activities. With the drives, Ok-ju has liberated the victims, but the notebook also gives her a list of predators to pursue next.
Understanding Min-hee’s Tragedy and Her Call to Ok-ju
When Ok-ju first receives a call from Min-hee, it’s apparent that they hadn’t been in touch for a while, and Min-hee mentions that “there’s been a lot going on.” Upon arriving at Min-hee’s apartment, Ok-ju discovers that Min-hee has tragically taken her own life, leaving a note requesting Ok-ju to seek revenge. Initially, it’s not clear what Choi did to Min-hee, but as Ok-ju investigates Choi and learns about the other victims, the details of Min-hee’s plight come to light.
In a call to Min-hee’s phone, Choi threatens, “if your friends knew who you really were, would they still hang out with you?” and “if you ditch me again, I’ll make your friends hate you and all your family disown you.” Ok-ju’s subsequent discovery of the videos Choi had recorded of Min-hee and other girls makes it evident that he was using these videos as blackmail, explaining why Min-hee had distanced herself from Ok-ju for so long. The girl Ok-ju rescues from a hotel confirms that they had groomed multiple girls and threatened to post the videos online if they didn’t comply.
Revealing Ok-ju and Min-hee’s Relationship
Although Ballerina’s plot primarily unfolds as a straightforward revenge story, the portrayal of Ok-ju and Min-hee’s relationship is nonlinear. This approach conceals the true depth of their friendship until the ending’s flashback. When Min-hee first calls Ok-ju, it implies they hadn’t been in contact for a while despite a prior close bond. The first flashback of Ok-ju and Min-hee reveals that they were schoolmates in their younger years, but they rekindled their friendship during a chance encounter at a cake shop.
Photographs from a photo booth on Min-hee’s wall and the flashback of them visiting the photo booth suggest that their relationship had a more extensive history than a recent chance meeting. Finally, the ending’s beach flashback unveils a highly intimate moment between the two, shedding light on the true depth of their friendship. The nonlinear portrayal of their relationship gradually reveals the extent of their bond, coinciding with Ok-ju’s emotional journey throughout the film.
Deciphering the Fish Symbolism and the True Meaning of Ballerina’s Ending
In the final flashback of Ballerina, Ok-ju and Min-hee are seen walking along the beach to Min-hee’s cherished “secret spot.” Min-hee expresses her desire to “come back as a fish” in her next life and mentions that she is only a ballerina because she cannot be a fish yet. Min-hee believes that “the earth belongs to the fish.” However, there is a deeper significance to the use of fish symbolism in Ballerina. In Korea, particularly in Buddhist temples, wind chimes or bells with a fish hanging from them symbolize various meanings, including constant motion, vigilance, and freedom.
Min-hee’s yearning for freedom and her desire to break free from Choi’s extortion are clear connections to the fish symbol. Choi, who disguised his drug operation as a sushi delivery service and packaged the substances used to drug the girls in fish capsules while talking about “fishing,” directly relates to his role in robbing the girls of their freedom. In the end, Ok-ju’s actions liberate Min-hee (and all the other women) and are symbolized in the film’s closing shot, which depicts Min-hee dancing like a fish underwater.