The Villainess

Review by Claire Langlais

Directed by

Byung-gil Jung

Starring

Ha-kyun Shin Jun Sung Ok-bin Kim

Anticipation.

South Korea combines femme assassin antics with long game revenge.

Enjoyment.

Some great scenes and we’re made to root for Sook-hee’s happiness.

In Retrospect.

Plot logic is swept aside in favour of big action set pieces.

It’s hard to be a master femme assassin in this ultra-violent action caper from South Korea.

The price of freedom is staggeringly high in Jung Byung-Gil’s enjoyable action thriller The Villainess, as an elite killer trained since childhood and who later serves Korea’s Intelligence Agency has to fight for life and liberty. The film’s opening scene – which is partly filmed first-person POV – introduces Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin) who, during a ferocious fight sequence, defeats a large crowd of armed men. This offers a direct and bloody precursor of things to come, as well as cementing our heroine’s badass credentials.

Sook-hee is arrested and handed to the nefarious Intelligence Agency where she is forced to hone her killer craft alongside other trained assassins. But she still desperately wants out, and so takes us on a tour of this high security, high spec stockade during her latest (abortive) escape attempt. Flashbacks to an idyllic past add to the film’s intensity and flesh out Sook-hee’s dramatic backstory. These interludes can be repetitive at times, but they have a tempering effect: the more hushed, sentimental scenes with her new family are essential to catch the breath between the bouts of mayhem.

One highlight sees Sook-hee, dressed in a wedding gown, completing a new mission in the venue’s rest rooms and missing the target, a man who reminds her of past love Joong-sang (Shin Ha-kyun). This surprising romantic subplot appears like an interesting new twist, but it isn’t. Instead it feels hurried and more like a cheap device, leaving details overlooked and leading to an inevitable and upsetting climax.

Still, it’s the amazing fights and precisely-executed choreography which make up for the shaky storytelling: whether it is a battle with swords, a night motorbike chase or an axe clash in a bus pelting at full speed, there are undoubtably great moments here. As a whole, though, it doesn’t work quite so well.

Published 12 Sep 2017

Tags: South Korean Cinema

Anticipation.

South Korea combines femme assassin antics with long game revenge.

Enjoyment.

Some great scenes and we’re made to root for Sook-hee’s happiness.

In Retrospect.

Plot logic is swept aside in favour of big action set pieces.

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