Director: Jung Byung-gil
Starring: Kim Ok-bin, Shin Ha-kyung, Bang Sung-jun
After a violent rampage in a drug lord’s headquarters, Seok-hee (Kim Ok-bin) is taken to a training facility for female assassins. Held against her will but controlled by her young daughter, she excels in her training and is soon brought to the outside world for missions and a cover identity. She ‘meets’ Jung Hyun-soo (Bang Sung-jun) her neighbor and operative of the training facility she was previously held in under secret pretenses. When her past finds her in her new identity, she must face it or lose everything she’s be able to earn in her second chance at life.
Exploding with stylized action from the get-go, The Villainess has been making ripples throughout the Asian film community for its frenetic action scenes and has earned comparisons to films such as La Femme Nikita, Kill Bill, and the recent John Wick franchise. While it doesn’t really reach such lofty goals, it is still a more than serviceable action/revenge thriller with some of the most dynamic action scenes since The Raid films.
Director Jung Byung-gil blends blistering action; from the long take filled opening first person perspective fight, to the dizzying final confrontation of the film which features a number of set pieces that would have been solid on their own but are somehow stitched together for a crazy continuous series of violence. The action doesn’t always work perfectly such as when the camera movement gets a little too close or too shakey, but when it hits it does so well. The action of course is where the film excels but the influx of the typical Korean melodrama in the second act does serve to stall the film a bit despite providing some necessary plot progression. The problem comes from how jarringly fast the tone changes and the film suffers because of it.
Kim Ok-bin is very expressive and handles her action very well. Her transitions from her life in the facility versus her life outside are believable enough and she’s a fine lead. Shin Ha-kyung is terrific as always; he brings a solid physical performance as well as handles his dramatic scenes well. Bang Sung-jun is the weak link here with his soap opera-ish performance and goofy choices that immediately took me out of the film. I’m sure he’s endearing enough to most fans, but it just seemed out of place for what I expected or wanted out of the film.
The Villainess is an action extravaganza that has some of the most breathlessly dynamic action scenes in a Korean film in years. The bookend action sequences are worth the price of admission alone, but slogging through the somewhat meandering second act will determine whether you love it or not.
Special Thanks to Well go USA for providing a screening copy!