Drawing from a promising script he co-wrote, Korean director Jung Byung-gil (Confession of Murder) squanders the chance of doing something original or memorable with The Villainess. Sadly, the crime thriller in question brings an assemblage of stale clichés that, although fast-and-furious, only increase tiredness along the way.
Byung-gil goes straight to the point, showing a ravaging skinny woman annihilating an entire gang in a short period of time. She is Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin), a trained assassin since a young age, whose traumatic memories of a difficult childhood bolstered her lethality and resilience.
“… traumatic memories of a difficult childhood bolstered her lethality and resilience.”
The superior fighting skills and instant killing instinct she evinces quickly call the attention of the South Korea’s intelligence agency which forces her to enroll in one of their obscure projects comprising several dangerous missions with assigned targets. Before starting to execute these preys under the tight supervision of the agency’s glacial chief, Kwon (Kim Seo-hyeong), Sook-hee is submitted to a facial plastic surgery, psychologically revitalized, and persuaded to join them for ten years in exchange for a lifetime pension and total freedom when the service time is over.
Often, especially while on duty, harrowing situations from a tumultuous past assault her mind and are presented in the form of flashbacks. Despite so, it was still difficult for me to connect with this mysterious character, who is relocated to an apartment with her little daughter in order to live a discreet, ’normal’ life. Rejuvenated and with a new identity, this gal is able to smile again, gaining extra confidence when a young neighbor and widower, Hyun-soo (Bang Sung-jun), gains her trust and her heart. Big disillusion, though, when she finds out he’s an undercover agent sent to control all her moves.
In fact, the romance gets emotionally vibrant, becoming the prettiest part of a tale whose situations keep oscillating between the easily tolerable and the terribly bad. There are plenty of bloody scary faces, shots in the head, physical torments, nauseating throat slashes, and a scene captured with visual panache of a few bikers dueling with swords in a narrow tunnel. It’s simultaneously excessive and spectacular, and is exactly this intermittence in terms of satisfaction that accompanied me throughout.
“…the romance gets emotionally vibrant, becoming the prettiest part of the tale.”
To give you a better idea of what you can expect, think about a dark crossing between the psychological harassment associated with the cinema of Takashi Miike and Shion Sono, the vengeful path and romping rage of I Saw the Devil, and the espionage thrills of La Femme Nikita.
The description above might sound appealing for action hunters, but as a matter of fact, and when deeply analyzed, The Villainess is simply an overlong, unarticulated, and impotent thriller that opted for the easiest way to impress.
The Villainess (2017) Directed by Jung Byung-gil. Written by Jung Byung-gil and Jung Byeong-sik. Starring: Kim Ok-bin, Kim Seo-hyeong, Bang Sung-jun.
5 out of 10