Starring Ok-bin Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, Jun Sung, Seo-hyeong Kim
Directed by Byung-gil Jung
Home to one of the single greatest opening action set-pieces in living history, Byung-gil Jung’s The Villainess gets off to one hell of a start.
Sook-hee (Kim) is a trained assassin… and as proceedings kick off in grand style, she’s slaughtering her way through an entire rival organisation, Jung’s delirious camera putting us right in the middle of the action for a first person massacre before smartly switching perspective.
Picked up by the authorities, Sook-hee is whisked to South Korea and offered a place within a shadowy authority. If she serves ten years as one of their elite killers, she will earn her freedom. Soon, that time has passed, and Sook-hee looks forward to starting up a normal life with her young daughter.
It’s shortly into this side of the flick that The Villainess quickly begins to become a rickety ride. Striving for normalcy, Sook-hee joins a theatre group and sparks up a slowly growing romance with her next door neighbour – who’s actually a plant, employed by the organisation Sook-hee once belonged to.
During a Nikita-esque wedding ceremony assassination, a dark figure from Sook-hee’s past returns and places her new life, and everything she has fought for, directly in the line of fire.
At just under 130 minutes long, The Villainess tends to crawl throughout the middle stages. The primary cause of this is that the dreary Sook-hee simply isn’t a character worth caring much about. Any sympathy, in fact, is all-too-easily generated by the inclusion of her little daughter – a natural human reaction for audiences who understand that the very, very evil people now coming for Sook-hee will have absolutely no qualms about harming the child. Jung bounces back and forth through flashbacks to create a needlessly convoluted plot, when all most will be interested in is getting to the next extravagant action sequence.
Sadly, following the initial eye-popping insanity, the much-lauded action also struggles to stay standing in between all the flipping, spinning, shooting and slashing. Jung deserves plenty of kudos for his ambition and vivaciousness, but later fight sequences in The Villainess (on the big screen, at least) can be utterly exhausting to keep up with – and not in a good way. Keeping his flow going means Jung needs to employ a cavalcade of editing tricks, usually hidden inside of a sudden zoom and spin of the camera. It’s cool the first time, but annoying by the fifth.
It would be wise not to buy too much into the hype on this one. Whilst it’s a serviceable slice of Korean action fare (and that’s already a high bar to begin with), all the go-getting verve of its bombastic action sequences can’t paper over how unrefined the experience is as a whole – especially when compared to the more fully formed contemporaries The Villainess tries so hard to get one up on.
The Villainess is released to UK Cinemas and on Digital HD on September 15.