Star Rating:

The Villainess

Director: Byung-gil Jung

Actors: Ha-kyun Shin, Jun Sung, Ok Bin Kim

Release Date: Friday 15th September 2017

Genre(s): Action, Drama

Running time: 129 minutes

When she single-handedly takes out a gang of over twenty armed psychos in a blood-soaked revenge mission, Sook-hee (Kim, Thirst) is given a new face, a new identity and a new life as a contract killer by a clandestine government agency. She's taught some domestic and social skills that allow her to return to society with her toddler daughter and told to wait until assignments crop up. Meanwhile agent Hyun-soo (Sung-jun Bang) is secretly employed to woo the psychologically damaged assassin to give her some sort of semblance of a normal life, letting her to be the killer she needs to be. But Hyun-soo genuinely falls in love, which endangers Sook-hee's missions…

If one was on the lookout for an original violent actioner look no further than this South Korean outing: the opening fifteen minute non-stop POV sequence that knowingly references a first person shoot-em-up (there's even the familiar reload moment) is a breathless piece of action with director Jung (Confession of a Murder) using firearms, knives, swords, and hand-to-hand combat to create a blood-splattered carnage. Later, a three-way motorcycle swordfight catches the eye and the bus chase sequence at the climax is a delight. Jung's trick photography puts the action fan right in the mix: you're in that hallway, you're on that motorbike, you're clinging to that bus.

But action movies work not just because of the inventive action. They need a three-dimensional character and an engrossing story. Do these things matter in a gleefully violent action movie such as this? Of course they do: without emotional engagement with the heroine it’s impossible to care one way or another what happens to her. The opening POV sequence may be fun but with no knowledge as to why or where or who it means nothing. Jung seems to realise this but his tactic of turning to numerous lengthy flashbacks that go about explaining action scenarios after the fact prove to be problematic.

The narrative - large chunks lifted from Luc Besson's Nikita and Tarantino's Kill Bills - is a convoluted and confusing mess with backstories of betrayals and reveals involving her father and her late husband lobbed in willy-nilly. The film’s greatest failing is that although the lonely Sook-hee is a tragic figure, having lost her husband, her father and with her daughter in danger, there's little sympathy for her plight. We never get to know her or understand her.