Korean action cinema releases in the UK have been very quiet lately until word came out about a new revenge thriller entitled The Villainess starring Kim Ok-bin and directed by Jung Byung-gil.
Sook-hee is a trained assassin who takes revenge on the men who murdered her father in a breathtaking opening sequence. After losing consciousness she awakes at the National Intelligence Service who recruit her as an agent to undertake confidential missions. Initially refusing, Sook-hee soon realises it is her only method of escape until she is assigned a new assignment that changes everything…
The opening goes straight into action mode as a figure demolishes a gang of criminals using guns, knives and empty hand even if she is totally outnumbered. It is shot in a POV style, very much like you were playing a video game and is extremely well choreographed and edited. We then find that the girl, when apprehended by the authorities, is sent to a penitentiary and is given a choice, Nikita style, to have a new life and a new identity, but only if she trains to become one of the select few assassins and carries out her chosen hit.
Things take a twist as we learn she is pregnant and will wait until the child is slightly older before carrying out her duties, but at the same time unknown to her a co-worker chooses to become her minder but finds himself falling for her. Things then start to get problematic as her past and what she has become catches up with her.
There is nothing really new here story-wise, as mentioned it is a riff on the Nikita girl assassin formula and the lead actress does well in a very physical role. Violence has become her way of life and it is shown at times in very graphic detail, it certainly deserves its 18 rating. While the action is plentiful it is shown in such a way as to become at times difficult to follow, I have never been a fan of the shaky cam approach to fight scenes and it is very prevalent here as well as lots of enhanced CGI which is overused at times, especially during the climax.
Overlong at 124 minutes the film is enjoyable but lacking any real emotional context, although it does try a little too hard at times and there are scenes you certainly would not see in any mainstream Hollywood actioner. Definitely worth a watch it’s just a shame that it seems to be just a little too melodramatic and forces the plot a little too hard.
The film has been released in the UK on DVD and Blu Ray by Arrow and the Blu ray has a very good 1080p HD transfer, blacks are solid as are the colours and it is a very good looking disc. Audio gives you the Korean language with the fabulous use of the surround track, especially during the many action set pieces. Extras are disappointing with an audio commentary with filmmakers and critics Sam Ashurst and Dan Martin and a trailer.
Slightly disappointing and over the top Korean filmmaking but definitely worth a watch.
7 out of 10