THE VILLAINESS (2017)
Korean action flick follows the bloody path of vengeance cut by Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin) a woman raised to be an assassin since she was a child. As a little girl she watched her father (Park Chul-min), brutally murdered before her eyes. A mysterious man, Lee Joong-sang (Shin Ha-kyun) trains her and eventually marries her, but upon his death, her road to revenge catches the attention of an intelligence agency that wants use of her skills. They want her services for ten years and then Sook-hee will be free. Soon she has a new face, new identity and even a child (Kim Yeon-woo) and new husband (Sung Joon). But when a familiar face resurfaces and she finds herself betrayed by those she trusted, Sook-hee finds herself questioning everything she knew and held dear…and back on a collision course with bloody retribution.
Flick is directed with gusto by Jung Byung-gil from a script by he and brother Jung Byeong-sik and while it is a little plot heavy, it is also loaded with some very intense and gruesome action. The film opens with a bonkers and extremely violent POV scene of Sook-hee shooting and slicing her way through the entire contingency of a large meth lab and this sets the tone for some of the John Woo on crack action scenes that the film is peppered with. There is also a lot of melodrama in between, such as Sook-hee bearing the child of her first husband while at the intelligence agency and dealing with the advances of the handsome Jung Hyun-soo (Sung Joon), who the audience knows from the start is an agency operative sent to keep an eye on her. Don’t worry, the soap opera level dramatics are handled well and just when it teeters on the edge of losing our interest, there is betrayal, murder and the shocking arrival of someone from Sook-hee’s past and soon the blood and bullets are flying again. The climactic fight with an axe wielding Sook-hee on a moving bus is worth watching this for alone. The action scenes are frantic and some of the dizzying camerawork can start to get a bit trying, but there is some real intensity and energy to them and it’s interesting to see where the legendary John Woo’s influence is taken by today’s filmmakers.
The cast are all really good, especially leading lady Kim Ok-bin. She has a screen presence, not only as a beautiful woman, but she is strong in the dramatic scenes and is quite riveting in the action. She has us feeling the pain of her loss and betrayals and we are rooting for her as she cuts and blasts her way through endless amounts of thugs. Shin Ha-kyun is also charismatic as Lee Joong-sang, the man who takes young Sook-hee (Min Ye-ji) and trains her, then marries her once she has grown into a beautiful and deadly woman. Their are some twists involving his character that the actor portrays very well. Sung Joon is also very likable as Jung Hyun-soo. Despite the audience knowing from the beginning that he is an operative, the actor makes us believe he truly cares for Sook-hee and her little girl. Rounding out is Kim Seo-hyung as Sook-hee’s agency boss Chief Kwon, a ruthless woman well rendered by the actress.
Overall, this is an entertaining flick with some dazzling and fast paced action. Sure, some of the frantic camerawork can come close to giving you a headache, but there is plenty of flying bullets, blades and blood to satisfy action fans. There is also a lot of plot and melodrama, but director Jung Byung-gil handles it well and our leading lady keeps our attention when she is not running through her enemies like a lawn mower. One of the best action flicks to come out of Asian cinema in a while and a sign that the Korean cinema is still very much a strong player on the film making scene.