The Villainess, 2017.
Directed by Byung-gil Jung.
Starring Ok-bin Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, Jun Sung, and Seo-hyeong Kim.
A female assassin seeks revenge on the man that killed her father, unaware of the consequences that await her.
Opening with possibly the greatest five minutes of first-person action ever filmed, The Villainess follows in the tradition of recent high-octane Asian action movies like The Raid and Headshot and relentlessly throws exciting set piece after set piece at you as actors and stunt people alike seemingly perform almost superhuman violent theatrics all in the name of entertainment. But The Villainess strings all of these scenes together with a plot that whilst not wholly original, does draw on the revenge genre and presents it all in a stylish way, adding in elements of neo-noir, classic kung-fu and a dark undercurrent of almost horror movie proportions .
The Villainess breaks down into three very distinct acts, the first of which is the thrillingly violent and brutal setup of Sook-hee (Ok-bin Kim – Thirst), our main protagonist. Her introduction is brilliantly executed as she stalks her way through a building rammed with sword-wielding and gun-toting goons, killing them off methodically and, as previously mentioned, filmed from a first-person perspective as if you are watching somebody playing a video game. After five minutes of this we finally get to see her in a swift camera move that deflects the action back to normal perspective and we’re off and running into the main plot to find out who Sook-hee is and how she came to be taking out a whole building of villains.
And for the rest of the first act we are shown Sook-hee being trained as an assassin by a shadowy organisation who will set her free once she has given them 10 years of service. Sook-hee also happens to be pregnant and so the draw of being able to leave the assassin’s life behind for the sake of her child is what she is doing it all for, and so act two concentrates on Sook-hee, how she got where she is and who she is seeking to take revenge on. The basics of it are she is looking to get revenge on the person who killed her father but to go any deeper than that is to reveal too much as The Villainess starts piling on the characterisations in this part of the film, slowing the action down a couple of notches and introducing several characters that will play an important part in Sook-hee’s story as we move onto the final act of the film which tries to have it both ways and make you feel for the plight of a few of the characters whilst being blown away by the incredible car chases, explosive gun fights and brutal hand-to-hand combat that carries on right up until the closing scenes.
If blood-soaked action played out at high speeds is your thing then The Villainess is a movie that you need to see as violence rarely gets executed as pant-wettingly exciting and inventive as this but, like with most Korean movies, it does run on a little longer than it needs to and the constant flashbacks and leaping around with timelines does get a little frustrating, especially during the second act when we are being given Sook-hee’s backstory and the narrative flits from her childhood to when she begins on the trail for revenge with very little regard for keeping things flowing. Although one rarely goes into these vengeance movies looking for a heavy plot or a detailed story, it does feel like the filmmakers are trying a little too hard to play on our emotions at times when fewer confusing flashbacks and a little more exposition may have proved slightly less cumbersome.
However, those action set pieces are magnificent and so expertly crafted that any plot points slowing the momentum down are soon playing second fiddle to what can only really be described as a spectacle, as just when you think that Korean or Asian cinema has thrown its best work at you we get a motorbike chase like the one we see here – with all manner of flips, rolls and crashes that must be an insurance nightmare for somebody – and you realise that the likes of Bond, Bourne, The Expendables and the Fast & Furious are seriously going to have to up their game if they want to compete with what Korea can produce on what is likely a fraction of the budget of Spectre or Jason Bourne, because compared to The Villainess they look tired and uninspired.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★