惡女 | The Villainess (2017)
Setting some new highs with its breathtaking set pieces, mind-blowing action choreography & jaw-dropping camerawork, The Villainess delivers absolutely insane, batshit crazy moments of action and leaves behind an endless trail of bodies over the course of its 129 minutes runtime. But it is also marred by its muddled storyline & convoluted narration, for the story falls flat whenever the film tries to take a breather and allows its plot to catch up with its blood-filled madness.
The story concerns a ruthless assassin who’s been trained to kill from an early age. Coerced into becoming a sleeper agent for South Korea’s intelligence agency after her capture, she is promised freedom if she chooses to serve them for 10 years. As she begins her new phase of life under the disguise of a theatre actress, unexpected appearances from two men from her past trigger a chain of events that unveil dark secrets of her past, thus compelling her to take matters into her own hands.
Directed by Jung Byung-gil, the film opens with a thrilling action sequence set in a hallway that introduces our protagonist slicing & dicing her way through a crowd of goons. Shot mostly from first-person perspective, and in a single unbroken take, the scene sets the film’s tone right away. But then the director decides to weave a plot around the character, giving her a backstory, and the way it’s carried out is where the problem lies, for the plot goes back-n-forth way too many times and after a while, it becomes confusing & annoying.
It is in moments of action that the film manages to amaze & astound, and nearly every fight scene is better than the one preceding it. Assisted by spectacular set pieces, death-defying stunts & inventive camerawork, Jung takes the action set pieces to a whole new level of awesomeness and directs them with such zest, immediacy & aggression that it throws the competition away. Purely from an action standpoint, The Villainess is a memorable entry. It really is a shame though that its drama isn’t compelling enough and is quite difficult to follow at times.
Production design team puts up set pieces that heavily contribute to its action and lifts those moments up by a few notches. Cinematography is as accomplished as its fight choreography and packs plenty of long, unbroken takes that will have its audience gasping for breath. Camerawork is kinetic, transitions are smooth, and it works in perfect harmony with the surroundings. Editing is a mixed bag, for it is taut during moments of action but fragmented when it comes to drama. Visual effects & stunt team deserve a special mention. And its background score captures its mood & feel in a fitting fashion.
Coming to the performances, the cast consists of Kim Ok-bin, Shin Ha-kyun, Sung Joon & Kim Seo-hyung, and all of them do a fantastic job with the material they are provided. Kim Ok-bin plays Sook-hee, the titular assassin, and delivers a swashbuckling performance. Her role requirement is both physically & emotionally demanding but she manages to excel at both, and carries the entire film by herself. Shin & Sung play the two men from her past & present, and chip in with fine inputs, while Kim Seo-hyung is assertive in her role of Chief Kwon who keeps the villainess in check at all times.
On an overall scale, The Villainess is an absolute blast for action aficionados if they could look past the glaring shortcomings in the storytelling department. A hell of a slaughterfest that doesn’t dial down on violence and splatters the screen with blood, guts & body counts with zero hesitation, it may seem worthy of a place alongside Gareth Evans’ The Raid & Chad Stahelski’s John Wick, two of contemporary cinema’s finest actioners, but its incoherent plot & inconsistent flow prevents it from happening. Nevertheless, this action extravaganza from South Korea is another explosive output that finds its director firing on all cylinders when staging the fights, and is arguably the action movie of the year.