It’s rare that one leaves a film wondering, how the hell did they do that? And despite a somewhat tedious storyline that requires a bit of unpacking, one can’t help but be anything less than blown away by this movie. Whether you’re an action fan or not, The Villainess, is a high-speed, extraordinary feat of cinema that deserves all the praise coming its way.
The film begins with an extended POV sequence that rightly makes it feel as if we’re in some kind of first-person shooter video game. We slash and shoot our way through countless men in suits and into a hallway corridor where the iconic scene from Oldboy is recreated times a thousand. It’s impressive and by the time we first see our hero’s face, we know she’s the real deal. Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin), our Kill Bill-esque female assassin, has a one-track mind and it’s set on revenge. A trained killer from a young age, she’s captured by police immediately following her murderous rampage after her husband is killed during their honeymoon. She’s turned over to the Korean Intelligence Agency and is offered a deal: she must join their force and work as a sleeper agent in order to earn her freedom back. After training she is given a new identity and integrated back into society, but her withstanding obligation to the Agency prevents her from living any kind of normal or authentic life. Even her cautious relationship with her neighbour (Sung-Jun), one of the few things done to humanise the character, turns into a painful betrayal when we learn that he’s actually an agency spy specifically planted to keep tabs on her. Things only get worse as the body count climbs and we barrel forward at a breakneck pace, through trials and bloody tribulations, towards her breaking point and the explosive climax.
There’s nothing particularly unique about the story in The Villainess. It’s Bourne, it’s Old Boy, it’s Kill Bill; it’s most definitely, intentionally or not, an amalgamation of inspirations from great action movies dancing to the beat of its own slightly convoluted drum. While The Villainess doesn’t necessarily excel in the clear storytelling department, this factor is completely outweighed and overshadowed by the unbelievable pace and spectacularity of the action. As we whip through the scenes and bloodbaths ensue, the nitty-gritty details of the story become irrelevant and we’re simply focused on watching Kim Ok-bin slay in this role and holding onto our seats for the next epic sword-fight-on-motorcycle chase scene or martial-arts-gun-slinging showdown. Director Jung Byung-gil blows it out of the water by doing gore without it becoming maniacally self-indulgent, by giving us a female heroine who fights tooth and nail and beats all the boys, by managing to make her still vulnerable to love in spite of her traumatic past, and by creating a world that is stylised yet realistic. The Villainess is a kick to the stomach; shocking, revolting, and exhilarating all at the same time.
The Villainess is released nationwide on 15th September 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Villainess here: