Ak-Nyeo: The VillainessCannes Film Festival 2017
The first scene of this film gives a relatively good indication of what’s to come. We are immediately placed in the subjective perspective, facing up to a horde of henchman in a narrow corridor. We plunge a knife into a lumbering neanderthal’s neck. We shoot someone in the face. We crash into an adjoining room. We beat a man into the form of a sad peach. The first ten minutes are exhausting and nauseating, playing out like a particularly skittish first-person shooter, without the benefit of being able to switch it off. We glimpse our villainess briefly in the mirror – she’s a woman! – then find her bloodied but defiant in the rain-soaked street. The opening credits haven’t rolled yet.
The plot is nonsensical. Played by Kim Ok-vin, Sook-hee is the titular villainess, an extraordinarily talented and brutal assassin. She is captured by a South Korean government agency led by the cropped Chief Kwon (Kim Seo-Hyung), who wishes to utilise Sook-hee’s abilities for ten years in what seems like an ill-considered act of spite. But Sook-hee had made a category error – she’s carrying kin. Now her mindless acts of violence must be understood in the context of her love for a child and her desire to protect. There are many instances of suspect motivations and calculated deceptions – the father who wants revenge, the irritating, mid-ranking bureaucrat who takes a fancy to Sook-hee – and the film becomes an overwhelmingly chaotic bricolage of peculiar grudges and wanton murder. One absurd scene depicts the horrific death of two central characters. You would have a heart of stone not to laugh as they plummet to the ground, a perplexing inferno following up behind.
It is to be thankful that director Jung Byung-Gil doesn’t maintain the first-person perspective throughout, as there wasn’t a bucket close by. Understandably, the merit of this film lies in its technical achievement and combat choreography; it does not lie in the patently ridiculous plot, nor in its acting or its courtesy to cinematic niceties and pacing. By the end, the killing is so commonplace and numbing that the only ones left to enjoy it are the lobotomised.
Ak-Nyeo: The Villainess does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Ak-Nyeo: The Villainess here: