There is a particular type of film in the action genre that I am very fond of: the revenge movie. I always love it when someone loses everything and then turns into a complete psycho, hellbent on getting revenge on his or her tormentors. Usually that makes for a very entertaining, albeit often bloody, movie experience. As with any film genre there is always a risk that there are too many movies that are being made and as such it becomes either predictable or very boring. The South Korean movie industry certainly is no stranger to this particular type of film. In the past, movies such as Old Boy, I Saw the Devil and A Company Man have all been received very well (while at the same time causing quite a stir because of the often extreme violence depicted in those movies). No matter how you look at it, I have always thought that the Koreans are masters of the genre, and I always look forward to a new entry into the ranks. Last year The Villainess was released, that supposedly infused the revenge movie with a new and fresh take on it. Having just seen the film, I have mixed feelings about it, but more on that later.
The Villainess can best be described as South Korea’s take on La Femme Nikita. It focusses on a woman named Sook-hee who is a highly trained assassin. As a young girl she lost her father to an unknown assailant and witnessed him being killed while hiding under her bed. The face of the killer is unknown to her, but she does hear him whistle an eerie tune. Years later Sook-hee is captured by South Korea’s intelligence agency and given a new identity and name: Yeon-soo. While she is being trained by them, she gives birth to her daughter Eun-hye. Yeon-soo is offered the deal to work for the intelligence agency, and after 10 years she will gain her freedom for herself and her daughter. Having very little choice she accepts. But the shadow of her father’s death always looms over her. Eventually the past creeps up on her as it usually tends to do in these matters. With people gunning for her at every turn, the life expectancy of the skilled assassin becomes ever shorter. But Yeon-soo will not go down without a fight…
The opening sequence of this film puts you smack down right in the middle of the action. Without even knowing exactly what is going on, we see a fight sequence from a first person view as Sook-hee hacks, shoots and punches her way through a group of men in a warehouse. It is chaotic, bloody, brutal, but honestly a truly terrific way of setting the tone for this film. Where this film excels at is it’s uniquely choreographed fight sequences. The camera angles in some of the scenes are really one of a kind, and at times it feels almost as if you are the one that is delivering all of the violence. And there is a word that also describes this film very well: violence. This movie is not for the faint of heart. It doesn’t shy away from showing arteries being ruptured, limbs being cut off, and blood spraying in every direction. The Villainess is a brutal movie but as usual this does suit the theme of the film. If it’s action you want, this film brings it and then some. Be especially on the look out for a highspeed motorcycle chase that I found to be one of the best scenes of the film.
The hero of the film (if you can call her that of course) is being played by actress Kim Ok-vin and she does it well. Or to phrase it better: she knows how to kick some ass. A film like this stands or falls with a good lead, and she certainly doesn’t disappoint. In the fight sequences she shines the most as she is able to hold her own against the men that are trying to take her life. And she manages to do so with guns, knives and her bare hands. It all feels natural and realistic and you could almost believe she is an assassin in real life. Her character hasn’t got much depth to it, but admittedly the bond with her young daughter is what gives this otherwise very bleak movie at least a little bit of sunshine. This movie pretty much centers around her, and that’s why the supporting cast, such as it is, doesn’t really get a chance to show what they are made of. That is certainly one of the weak points of the film.
Another one is the story itself. At times it’s very confusing to follow what exactly is going on. The film uses a lot of flashback scenes, which is not a bad thing in itself, but at times it seems to insert them almost randomly. Not only that but sometimes you get one right after another and in a totally different time frame. That took me out of the film quite a few times and left me looking at the screen in bewilderment. While the action in movies like this is usually the most important, I do have to say that in revengethrillers especially it’s nice to have at least some kind of motive for the main character. In that this film partially succeeded but it could have been handled better. With all of it’s flaws I still recommend seeing this movie if you like these type of films. The action sequences alone make it a very worthwhile watch, as in this it really does try to do something totally different than what we are used to seeing. Don’t expect to much from it, and you will have a great time. Especially if you like to see a strong woman beat the crap out of a bunch of men.
I give the Villainess a 7 out of 10 score.