The Villainess Review: One women goes on a bone-crunching rampage, and takes us along for the ride, in this South Korean action gem.

The Villainess Review

The Villainess, which debuts in the UK at Frightfest ahead of a cinema release on 15th September, is a South Korean masterclass in action. Sook-Hee (Kim Ok-bin) has been raised as a ruthless assassin since the death of her parents. Having fallen in love with her mentor, the pair get married, only for him to perish on their honeymoon. Enraged and grief-stricken, Sook-Hee goes on a one woman rampage, killing all that get in her way before she is detained by, and enlisted by, South Korea’s intelligence agency. The National Intelligence Service promise her freedom after ten years of active assignments. Sook-Hee then begins her new double life as a theatre actress by day, hit-woman by night, until the dark secrets from her past start to reappear.

The Villainess is a hyper-charged revenge action-thriller that starts with a massive bang. The opening is so suped up with combat that it rivals the opening of the likes of John Wick 2. Utilising the first-person point-of-view, a la Hardcore Henry, the viewer sees the opening battle from Sook-Hee’s vantage point. It’s like being in video game, you get up nice and close with the fighting as you bear witness to a slew of shattered bone and bloodied bodies. Unlike Hardcore Henry, after the first fight sequence we leave the first-person perspective behind, for a while at least. Rather than have the full run-time in headache-inducing first person, director Byung-gil Jung picks just the right moments to thrust up inside the head of our protagonist. It’s a clever little technique that pays off several times over during the course of the film.

The Villainess Review

It’s not just the camera angle that makes the action sequences so dynamic, they’re simply insane all on their own. We’ve already mentioned Mr. Wick, but The Villainess really does follow the formula set out by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, it pulls no punches and manages to somehow surpass the previous set every time. The climax, as one would hope for in a revenge thriller, is stunning. Sook-Hee takes down a bus-load of foes whilst the vehicle is in motion. This sequence makes the freeway scene in The Matrix Reloaded look tame.

Whilst the action is punchy (in both meanings of the word) and frenetic, the rest of the film has a much more reserved pace. The moments after that initial wow-opening seem to really sag, but that’s probably down to it having to follow the impossible. Action aside, the plot runs out of steam a little towards the end, and the film would potentially benefit from being ever so slightly shorter. It clocks in at a solid two hours ten minutes, and in places it sadly does feel its length.

The Villainess Review

Our story unfolds across two time periods – Sook-Hee’s past and present. Her past is a tragic tale of death and assassin training, her present a tragic tale of trying to look after her adorable daughter and working out the years of her contract. There’s a huge amount of emotion hidden beside the eye-bleeding battles, The Villainess has heart and warmth as well as a cold cruel streak. Sook-Hee’s relationship with her neighbour Hyun-soo (Sung Joon) is sweet and innocent, a welcome palette-cleanse from all the grubby violence.

Simultaneously warm and innocent, and cold and calculating, this Kill Bill style story has a lot to offer. Inventive action sequences and hidden depths make The Villainess a cut above other revenge thrillers. A serious contender for action film of the year.

The Villainess review by Kat Hughes, August 2017.

The Villainess is currently playing as part of the Horror Channel Frighfest 2017 programme. 

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The Villainess