Korean director Byung-gil Jung’s latest feature, The Villainess hooks its claws in with a tale of revenge that rarely lets up – and when it does, it’s only really because the actors are trying to catch their breath. Oldboy, Kill Bill, La Femme Nikita, you name it – this will have you thinking of those beyond brutal scenes of ruthless revenge from the first frame.
We are instantly catapulted into a head spinning action sequence; senses engage as your heart rate quickens – so much so you can almost feel the adrenaline pumping through the veins of our blood splattering character’s bodies. We are cleverly placed in the shoes of this sharp edged, trigger pulling assailant; cunningly filmed as though we ourselves are controlling a figure in a video game physically committing such violence. This near ten minute continuous battle is so seamlessly choreographed that it quite frankly makes the iconic corridor sequence in Oldboy seem inferior. And the best thing about it – the person who is wreaking havoc here is a petite ‘kick-ass’ woman. You go girl.
Kitted out in black from head to toe for the most of her on screen time, Thirst’s star Ok-bin Kim plays Sook-hee, our expertly trained assassin with utter fierceness. After witnessing the bloody murder of her father (in a very familiar Tarantino-esque fashion) it becomes her mission to hunt down the person who took him from her. When her mentor is also ripped from her hands, revenge seems to be the only thing fuelling her existence. Challenging such anger towards her peers in training for South Korea’s Intelligence agency Sook-hee is used as a pawn, taking on a new identity as a single mum with a budding acting career; yet this new life quickly becomes infested with viruses lingering from her previous reality. Fear not, this isn’t all doom and gloom – you are sure to crack a smile and even a chuckle at times.
The camera dances through the story here; a ballerina in one scene to a jerky extra in the musical Cats in the next – we are never dissatisfied at what we are witnessing. Although, fancy and rather impressive, there is still such thing as overdoing it and perhaps once or twice the viewer becomes overwhelmed and will practically beg for a simple pan or smooth zoom to settle the stomach.
Such technical choices enhance the strong depiction of women here, yet the emotional connection falls to the waist side becoming lost in visible scars rather than the true ones that make her tick. As we approach the natural turning point here we are overloaded with information. Flashbacks and cut scenes become jumbled and confusing resulting in an intricately convoluted narrative that simply offers no extras in this whiplash inducing action exploit. Perhaps a second viewing would aid in understanding exactly what Jung was trying to tell us.
But it’s hard not to be impressed by the sword fights on motorbikes, epic car chases and beautifully vicious martial arts that are on show here. The Villainess is sure to make its mark due to impeccable action sequences, but certainly not for its compelling storytelling.
The Villainess is released on September 15th.