The Villainess begins with one of the most insane action sequences in recent memory. In a similar vein to the recent gimmicky Hardcore Henry, Sook-hee (Kim) slices through hordes of faceless goons in the first person, before the camera shifts to the third person, defying gravity in one fluid take. It accelerates through its single shot, sliding through space and time like director Jung has invented a new frame rate. In our screening it was greeted with a round of applause.
Thankfully Jung is wise enough to use this technique sparingly, though it would actually be welcome in many of the other action scenes. Instead of the fluid energy powering the first-person sequences, they are cut beyond belief, making a mockery of any attempt to follow the fight.
Although it begins as an ultra-violent action flick, The Villainess is actually a more unusual prospect, making a fine addition to the noble tradition of assassin action films/romcoms. Sook-hee is taken in by a secret group of assassins and trained to kill, before being released into the real world. She and her daughter (probably the best toddler actor we’ve ever seen, which really there should be an award for) can live “normal” lives, except for the odd mission thrown Sook-hee’s way. And at the same time she falls for her next-door neighbour (Sung-Jun), who, unbeknownst to her, is also her handler.
It’s a frankly ridiculous combination but somehow it works. The action is ferocious and thrilling, and the burgeoning relationship between Sook-hee and Hyun-soo is genuinely entertaining and moving. The real problem comes with the plot, which is full of twists and callbacks so abrupt it becomes difficult to follow what’s going on.
You might not understand all of The Villainess, but you’ll have a great time being clueless.
CAST: Kim Ok-bin, Shin Ha-kyun, Sung-Jun
DIRECTOR: Jung Byung-gil
WRITERS: Jung Byung-gil, Jung Byeong-sik
SYNOPSIS: Since she was a little girl, Sook-hee was brought up to become a deadly assassin. She gets a second chance in life when South Korea’s Intelligence Agency’s Chief Kwon recruits her to become a sleeper cell.