MOVIE: THE VILLAINESS
STARRING: OK-BIN KIM; HA-KYUN SHIN; JUN SUNG; SEO-HYEONG KIM
DIRECTED BY: BYUNG-GIL JUNG
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
When you begin the way Byung-Gil Jung's The Villainess does, it's hard to keep up the pace. The Hardcore Henry inspired opening, which involves a sword wielding Sook-hee (Ok-bin Kim) rampaging her way through a hallway of men, slicing and stabbing, leaving bodies on the floor, it will get your heart racing, like you just ran a marathon. Problem is, that it's not enough to make you love it. The Villainess is saved by some of the most fascinating and exciting action sequences of the year, but it could have done without a bogged down script of repetitive drama.
Our hero is unstoppable, she is a terminator, a walking warrior killing at will. Her training begins after she is forced into a shadow group of lady assassins. The team is lead by Chief Kwon (Seo-hyong Kim), who was able to keep Sook-hee around with the reveal of an unexpected pregnancy. After the birth of her daughter, the training continues, where she must deal with other classmates that bully her out of jealousy. She is given targets to eliminate, which leads to more knock-out action sequences, including a motorcycle chase that features car crashes, hand to hand combat while moving at high speeds, and Sook-hee's daring escape. When she completes her mission it allows her to go off and live a “normal life”, but as we know, assassins never get out of their profession easily.
The direction from Byung-gil Jung feels inspired by multiple sources, from Chan-wook Park's Oldboy to a similar tone of a film from earlier this year- Atomic Blonde. The marrying of action and thick detailed dramatics is a valiant effort, which almost works, but the fun moments are only enough to wet our whistles. When the direction turns to Sook-hee's relationship with her neighbor Hyun-soo (Jun Sung), the films pace slows and ultimately our enjoyment dwindles. There is a gentle kindness to their journey to finding comfort in one another, but it takes us away from all the things that work best in The Villainess.
Later on, the plot dives into the back story of Sook-hee's life, including the difficult realization of who her father was, and who she can trust. What should be applauded is the performance from Ok-bin Kim. Her talents are plentiful, reminding me of the skills from Ziyi Zhang in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but with an in your face edge. Her work with a sword and stunt work, climbing onto a moving car, will please anyone who loves the details of an action flick. I look forward to seeing more movies with Kim, especially ones that don't let up on her abilities to kick ass. She could be the female John Wick.
The Villainess will please anyone who loves intense drama with highly skilled stunt sequences. Those who don't love the POV cinematography might not care for the opening number, but that's not the films biggest problem. I just wish the narrative of a highly trained assassin, trying to find a life outside of the killing, had me as interested in the dramatic dialogue as I was in the high octane thrills. If this was the first film in a series, It's not a bad start. I would be more than happy to see more adventures of The Villainess. Let this highly trained assassin go to work. We need more movies with female warriors showing us how much they can kick ass anyway.
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady