By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The first thing we see is a first person perspective of someone running around, shooting everyone with pinpoint precision, and stabbing multiple assailants. Blood sprays and limbs go flying in the air. Each goon is dispatched in spectacular style and barely scratches our hidden assassin. Next, we get a shot of her foes with lost limbs and moaning on the ground in pain. This entire scene goes on for 6 minutes. But this is not Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill. Finally, we realize she’s female after seeing her head bashed in a mirror.
Our villainess is Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin). We learn Sook-hee’s father was murdered when she was a young girl. A mysterious stranger, Joong-sang (Shin Ha-kyun), saves her and transforms her into a killing machine. Eventually, Sook-hee falls in love with Joong-sang, and they get married. On their honeymoon, Joon-sang is murdered and she sets out to
find her husband’s killer and takes out anyone who stands in her way. Sook-hee’s trail of terror ends as she is captured by the police. In the holding room, Sook-hee is given a choice to become a sleeper agent for South Korea’s intelligence agency for 10 years. Afterwards, she can return to living a normal life. Sook-hee agrees after a startling revelation.
The title “Villainess” implies a female antagonist and that never really felt like the case for me. It’s not like Sook-hee is going around just killing random people. She has her reasons. Maybe The Assassiness? I’m not very familiar with the Korean movie scene outside of My Sassy Girl, Old Boy, Train to Busan, and The Wailing, but director Jung Byung-Gil has raised the bar for the Korean action genre.
The Villainess is exploding with action. There are gun fights, sword fights, hand-to-hand combat, and even a crazy motorcycle chase. This sequence alone switches over five different cameras from stationary, handheld, drone, mounted, and neck cam in a span of just a few minutes. The amount of creativity exhibited here is revolutionary. It’s so intense that you will forget why these idiots stupidly try to take her out with a sword, instead of just using a handgun and shooting her.
The Villainess has a number of plot twists and the end product is an amazingly enjoyable film. Korean movies don’t have the same plot restrictions as U.S. films. For example, some U.S. directors start with a unique, sometimes sad ending. However, during early movie screenings, the general audience usually does not enjoy it, so the director changes the ending to a happy one since that usually brings better box office numbers. Korean movies have very shocking and emotional endings.
The Villainess was released in South Korea in June and has made $8.7 million worldwide, including $17,000 in the United States. It currently is sitting at 81 percent on Rotten Tomatoes after 37 reviews.
It’s a shame that last week, Villainess was playing only at SIFF Uptown in Seattle and in San Francisco. With such limited distribution, there will be no way to catch this film in Seattle after reading this review.
Keep an eye out on Well Go Entertainment’s website for future theater times: wellgousa.com/theatrical/the-villainess-0. ■
John can be reached at