Film Review – The Villainess
The Villainess plays with the action genre in some different ways with clever editing and good fights but it can’t quite deliver being more than just an above average revenge flick. It starts with a great epic fighting sequence shot like a first person shooter game, but one where we have no idea who the lead is or who they are attacking, changing up weapons and finding clever ways to dispatch the opponents as the camera moves around from level to level of a building. When most of the fighting is done we see who “we” have been and it is a young woman, Sook-hee (Ok-bin Kim), who after her bloody battle has been taken by the Korean government to train her as an assassin for them.
Sook-hee is at first basically numb and doesn’t care about herself or anything they offer, but after finding out she is pregnant she agrees to stay with them as they train her to kill, but also help her find a career that she can use as a cover, and eventually after ten years will be free from the group. Cliches are introduced quickly for this kind of film, such as the tough emotionless leader of the assassins group Chief Kwon (Seo-hyeong Kim), the one friend she makes that isn’t as good as she is, and the opponent that hates her for being better and constantly tries to undermine her. One thing that continuously confused me is that she is already a killing machine so why do they need to train her? I get trying to make her feel a part of the group, but she never really feels that connected to them. Her only real connection is to her young child who has become a toddler before Sook-hee is set loose on the world.
Character-wise Sook-hee plays intense and emotional well. There is some great facial work when she is fighting, showing not just her intensity but also her anger at why she is fighting. When she is not fighting her love of her daughter and her distrusting nature come through clearly, but they also make it more apparent that everyone else around her is very boring. No one else has any clear reason for their emotions except that Sook-hee and the plot of the movie need these things to happen. What’s more the editing choices can be confusing when we jump around in time a lot, seeing her as a young girl and being given details about how she has become an unfeeling killing machine, but since it is never a linear line of events I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where we are. The biggest problem with this is when we do get all the details they are sadly unremarkable. Without the edits this would be just a basic revenge flick, with a few of the cliches done differently but nothing that makes up for the fact that they are still archetypes we are seeing. There is nothing wrong with that but, in trying to make it more complex, it actually ends up being less impressive when we get to the ending.
When the movie does work it is when we see Sook-hee cut loose and start killing; she is not some silent, methodical killer. She is angry at what has happened to her and she has the skill set to make those around her pay. Here is where director Byung-gil Jung‘s work with the camera and the editing really work. There are almost no cutaways when she is fighting; we see where Sook-hee is in relation to the building and streets that she is on, which keeps the intensity going even if she is so good that the idea of her losing seems unlikely. By doing this he is able to keep the momentum going to the end.
As an action film it is a mixed bag. We get some very engaging fighting sequences that are fun to watch and seem different enough to make things interesting. Plus there is the emotional cathartic feeling of seeing bad people get what they deserve. The rest though is middling, the movement of her training when we know she can already fight seems wasted, and the more we find out about her the actually less interesting it all is. Still, Ok-bin Kim is a fun actress to watch and if you are coming for some great action you will get it, just do not expect anything else.