Director: Byung-gil Jung
Cast: Ok-bin Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, Jun Sung
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A woman walks down a dimly lit corridor, the sound of her heels echoing through the hall. A man enters on the far end. Confused, he asks her what she’s doing, but within a split second, he’s dead, a smoking gun in the woman’s hand. The sound attracts the attention of other men, members of the same gang, and seeing what has happened, they run towards her, chaos descending, as she fends off one attack after another. Shot entirely from her point-of-view, blood hits the screen, as the woman makes her way through the throng of assailants in a game-like sequence that sets the tone for the rest of The Villainess – bloody, violent, and absolutely exhilarating.
Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin), the aforementioned killer, was born from violence, and her need for revenge has been something that has driven her for as long as she can remember. From the death of her father to her husband’s assassination, everything fuels her desire for chaos. Think of John Wick and his dog and you’ll see why she won’t be stopped from exacting her vengeance on those that wronged her. Rather than be taken by the police when her killing spree is finished, she finds herself in a mysterious facility, one maintained by a government agency that looks after and trains female assassins. In a similar vein to La Femme Nikita, Sook-hee finds that she’s been declared dead by the police and all record of her existence since the attack has been erased, all the better to serve the needs of her ‘employers’.
Once her training is complete she’s sent out into the world with her young daughter in tow. Her mission is to give the agency 10 years of her life, before she can be free to live a normal one. What’s waiting for her out in the real world isn’t what she expects, though, and while things seem fine at first, it doesn’t take long before they take a turn for the worse and she finds herself thrown into the deep end once more. For an action film, fight sequences are spread out significantly throughout the story with a lot of emphasis on Sook-hee’s past, a budding romance with her apparent neighbour, Hyun-soo (Sung Joon), as well as the reasons behind her decision to become a trained killer. While this does mean that there’s less action than might be expected, what it does is give the story a lot of substance and heart for what could otherwise have been a mindless action thriller.
What we do get to see, in terms of fighting, is thrilling thanks to Park Jung-hun’s immersive cinematography. There is very little space given between the audience and the characters, creating an intense atmosphere that makes you feel every punch, kick, or stab. Kim Ok-bin’s outstanding performance in the lead helps to solidify the importance of the rest of the story, her emotional and nuanced take on a broken character proving to be more of a highlight than the fight sequences could ever be. That she did most, if not all, of the stunts herself, thanks to her prior experience with martial arts, just makes her even more of a badass protagonist.
As might be expected, Sook-hee’s story is far from over when the film draws to a close, there’s a lot that’s been hidden beneath the surface of this revenge thriller – it’s clear that Jung Byung-gil has plans for Sook-hee’s future, however violent that may be. It’s the organisation she was trained in that is the most fascinating; their methods and ambitions for their sleeper agents raise a lot of questions, and one hopes they will eventually be answered. Hopefully, at that point, the story will be able to fill in the gaps left from this first outing, but, for now, this is an exciting female-led action thriller that’s guaranteed to get your heart racing.
The Villainess is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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