There is no doubt that in the world of film, Korean cinema is proving to be some of the most exciting. Producing world class directors like Park Chan-Wook and films such as Oldboy and The Man from Nowhere, the country is experiencing its very own new wave. Action films are, of course, a huge bulk of this new wave, with the region’s prominence in Martial Arts.
New revenge thriller The Villainess aims to showcase the physical style the country can produce. Despite its rich setting and Korea’s pool of talent, the film is an overblown, messy action flick that picks style over any substance.
When young Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin) is caught after brutally killing an entire crime gang, she is offered a deal; work as a sleeper agent for the secret service or face jail. With her new-born child and intense training, her life begins to unravel as we learn how she became a killer and just who were the men she killed.
Directed by Jung Byung-gil, who previously direction action flick Confession of Murder as well as documentary Action Boys.
The story begins typically enough for an action/revenge tale. A young woman breaks into a building and kills numerous men, while looking for someone. She escapes the building unharmed but is picked up by the Korean secret service. They agree to give her back her life if she works for them for a period of ten years. After this explosive opening, the plot goes haywire. The relevance of the secret service and their true nature and aims are never established. The plot becomes crammed, convoluted, and difficult to follow.
The film continuously jumps into Sook-hee’s past, distorting the time and structure. What should unravel her past simply adds more action and confuses the plot. Non-linear structures are the trend in the best of Korea’s films but what is missing here is the solid narrative to justify it. The jumping around of time feels more for style purposes, rather than to tell an actual story.
The film showcases plenty of action with well-choregraphed fight sequences. The frequency of the action feels out of place with the narrative, dragging it out. Yet the most unwatchable element of this film is the video game style the film often morphs into, using a player POV to follow the leads fighting path. The visuals feel at odds with the rest of the film and the result is underwhelming.
Lead actress Ok-bin Kim is most prominently known for her role in vampire thriller Thirst. Trained in multiple Martial Arts ,this film aimed to showcase her physical abilities. The director claims all stunt work was performed by her with CGI only used to remove cables. Although this is a well-choreographed action film, the story leaves all cast’s effort wasted. No doubt Kim has presence and could handle a more emotional arch but here, she’s wasted for the sake of visuals.
Despite a strong female lead and some impressive action, the films overblown running time, convoluted narrative and videogame style makes it a dull watch.
The Villainess is out now!