- The ending of Ballerina reveals the significance of Choi's notebook, which contains crucial information about his criminal activities and a list of predators for Ok-ju to hunt down.
- Min-hee's suicide and the blackmail videos discovered by Ok-ju shed light on the extent of Choi's exploitation and the reason for 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 plays like a straightforward revenge thriller with Ok-ju (Jun Jong-seo) finally killing Choi (Kim Ji-hoon) to avenge the death of Min-hee (Park Yu-rim), but there's more story details and symbolism in the Netflix K-drama movie's ending than may be obvious. Written and directed by South Korean filmmaker Chung-Hyun Lee for Netflix, Ballerina is a violent, stylized action film with a story of revenge and liberation.
Ballerina's main character, Ok-ju, is a bodyguard who provides security services for VIP clients around the world, meaning she has a very particular set of lethal skills, as demonstrated in the movie's opening scene where she takes on an entire gang of thieves trying to rob a convenience store. When she discovers the death of her close friend, who's last wish was for Ok-ju to get revenge on Choi, the criminal who victimized her, Ok-ju goes into the dark criminal underworld to take on a gang of drug dealers and sex traffickers to find justice for Min-hee.
What Was In Choi's Notebook?
At the end of Ballerina, after killing Choi, Ok-ju returns to his house to retrieve the thumb drives with videos of all the women Choi exploited and extorted, freeing them from his influence, but she also found a little black book full of notes from Choi. Since the text in the book is written in Korean, the true meaning of Choi's notebook might not be clear to anyone who doesn't understand the Korean script, but English subtitles highlight relevant portions of the notes, denoting a time and location, particularly "Fri 2:30 AM, Jamsu Bridge," which is where Choi previously told Ok-ju (thinking she was Min-hee) to meet him.
The notebook also included rows of what appeared to be screen names (some of which were indicated VIPs), were marked A or B, two different numbers, and either "pick" or "drop," likely representing customers, products, quantities, prices, and pick-up or drop-off, respectively. The little fish capsules Choi is selling appear to be what he used to drug his victims before assaulting them and making the incriminating videos on the flash drives, which would suggest all the customers in his black book were doing something similar. Now that Choi has the drives, she's liberated the victims, but having the notebook means she also has a list of predators to hunt down next.
What Happened to Min-hee, and Why Did She Call Ok-ju?
When Ok-ju first receives the call from Min-hee, it's revealed they haven't spoken for a while and Min-hee says "there's been a lot going on." When Ok-ju arrives at Min-hee's apartment, she finds Min-hee has died by suicide with a note requesting Ok-ju to get revenge. It's not immediately apparent what Choi did to Min-hee, but as Ok-ju tracks down Choi and discovers what happened to the other victims, Min-hee's situation becomes more clear.
When Choi calls Min-hee's phone, he says "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 breaks into his house and discovers all the videos he recorded of Min-hee and other girls, it's apparent he was using the videos as blackmail, which was why Min-hee hadn't spoken to Ok-ju for so long. This is all corroborated by the girl Ok-ju saves from the hotel, who reveals they'd groomed multiple girls and threatened that they'd post the videos online if they didn't comply.
What Was Ok-ju and Min-hee's Relationship?
While the plot of Ballerina is mostly told as a straightforward revenge story, the story of Ok-ju and Min-hee's relationship is told in a non-linear fashion such that the extent of their friendship isn't fully explained until the Ballerina's ending flashback. The scene where Min-hee first calls Ok-ju implies they haven't been in touch for a while despite a previous closeness. The first flashback of Ok-ju and Min-hee reveals they were classmates in school when they were younger, but are reuniting for the first time in years at the cake shop where they become close friends again.
The photo booth pictures of the two of them on Min-hee's wall and the flashback revealing them visiting the photo booth also show their relationship had a lot more history than just a recent cake-shop run-in. Then, finally, the ending flashback on the beach shows a much more emotionally intimate moment between the two, revealing how close their friendship truly was. While the non-linear portrayal of their relationship obfuscates the extent of their relationship until the end, it also speaks to Ok-ju's own emotional walls, with the slow reveal of their closeness coinciding with Ok-ju's own emotional journey throughout the movie.
The Meaning of the Fish Symbolism And the Real Meaning of Ballerinas' Ending
In the final flashback at the end of Ballerina, Ok-ju and Min-hee are shown walking down the beach together to Min-hee's favorite "secret spot." She tells Ok-ju she wants to "come back as a fish" in her next life, and says she's only a Ballerina because she can't be a fish yet. Min-hee believes "that the earth belongs to the fish," but there's an even deeper meaning to Ballerina's use of fish symbolism. In Korea, particularly in Buddhist temples, wind chimes or bells with a fish hanging from the bell to represent a variety of meanings including constant motion, vigilance, and freedom.
Min-hee's desire to dance freely and literally be free from Choi's extortion are clear connections to the fish symbol, but Choi masking his drug operation as a Sushi delivery service, and the fact that he packages the substance used to drug the girls in fish capsules and talks about going "fishing" also speaks directly to his role in removing the girls' freedom. Ok-ju liberates Min-hee (and all the other women) in the end of Ballerina by killing Choi and recovering the flash drives (and customer notebook). Min-hee's freedom is then symbolized in the final shot of the movie, picturing Min-ee dancing as a ballerina under the water like a fish.
In the end, Ok-ju getting revenge for Min-hee, but she also liberates the other girls entrapped by Choi's videos, in the process, also getting freedom for Min-hee, who can dance freely in her next life, like a fish. The end of Ballerina works as both a simple violent revenge thriller, but unpacking the movie's story and themes reveals a deeper message to the Netflix K-drama movie.