The Villainess

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The movie starts with an extremely impressive action scene, where we watch an unknown assailant attacking swarms of enemies in a building, butchering, maiming, breaking, kicking and punching everyone who enters the scene, in a style identical to the first-person shooters in video games. After awhile, the camera is pushed back and the character is revealed to be a woman, while the video game aesthetics remain, as a third-person action this time.

After the end of this scene, and a disorienting cut including a flashback, we watch the main heroine escape a room in which she was secluded. Some seemingly surrealist scenes occur where she has to pass through a room where women practice ballet, another where they act, and another where they put on their makeup. In this sequence, the film transforms into yet another video game, this time in the category of surviving horror.

Awhile later, we start to learn about the real story of Sook-hee, the wife of a criminal who trained her to be a killing machine and left her pregnant. Now, the girl has to work for the government’s secret service as an assassin for 10 years, in order to avoid them having her and her daughter killed.

Up to this point, the action is frantic in the most elaborate way. Violence, martial arts, street fighting, guns and knives, and an exceptional combination of Park Jung-hun’s cinematography, Heo Sung-mee’s editing, and Koo Ja-wan’s sound make for one of the best action sequences ever to appear in cinema. This greatness continues to the rest of the action scenes in the movie that include car, bus and motorcycle chases and fights, and scenes occurring in places that range from private clubs to the outside of the buildings.

All of these are presented through another great combination of films that seems to feature the aesthetics and tactics of “Chocolate” and “The Raid,” and the aesthetics of “A Bittersweet Life” and “I am a Cyborg, But That’s OK” at the same time, with the latter deriving from the way Kim Ok-bin plays Sook-hee in the action scenes.

However, and this is one big “however,” the film’s rhythm falls very low during the hour or so where we learn the true story of “The Villainess,” and the blights that still torment her life. Another combination of films, this time including “La Femme Nikita” (which will be forever mentioned when the theme of the female professional killer comes up) and “Kill Bill,” keeps the story interesting, although a bit extreme at times.

Jeong Byung-gil does not avoid the reefs of the heartbreaking romance and the melodrama, where the evident effort at sentimentalism makes the majority of the parts between the action scenes almost tiring. Evidently, if one wants to shoot a blockbuster in Korea, he has to include some doses of melodrama, but in this case, they seem completely misplaced compared to the rest of the production’s aesthetics.

On the other hand, Jeong has the wisdom to interrupt them with a few well-placed action scenes, some of which even border on the style of 70’s Japanese exploitation, with the scene in the private club being the highlight of this tendency.

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