Opening with an amazing first person fight scene where the central character Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin from Chan-wook Park’s terrific Thirst) shoots, knives and punches her way through a whole host of hoods, South Korean director Byung-gil Jung sets the tone and pace of his amazing action flick all before we see the title card.
What sets The Villainess apart from your average action movie however is the epic storyline that takes Sook-hee from vengeance filled self-destruction into the secret facility of the National Intelligence Service where she puts her skills and scarily determined sensibilities into training to be a top assassin all for the child she carries, gives birth to and raises in the training camp.
Already capable of killing the government makes her even more deadly promising she can live a normal life after giving them 10 years in service as a hired gun. Reluctantly Sook-hee excels under the program and succeeding in her first mission she is released into the real world with her daughter to live under cover as an actress ready and waiting for the next deadly assignment.
What she doesn’t know however is she is being constantly watched and manipulated in ways she is unaware of and when the time comes for her next kill the target brings back memories of her past she thought long buried.
Evoking Nikita, Oldboy, Kill Bill, Hardcore Henry and many other movies it would be easy to write The Villainess off as just another action movie but this is not the case because of the sensational script from director Byung-gil Jung and Byeong-sik Jung.
Although the elements of revenge, betrayal, abuse and control may appear familiar they are spun in such a captivating way that the whole film seems highly original. Jumping about in time and showing how Sook-hee became the woman she is works wonderfully revealing just enough information to us to make the hugely poignant twists and turns deliver as bigger kick to our psyches as we see in some of the stunning fight set pieces.
Kim Ok-bin’s performance is a master class not only in stunt work and martial arts but in how to present a seemingly physically unstoppable character’s emotional weakness rounding them off and making them much more than a kung fu cliché.
Her love for her daughter and determination to shield her from the double life she leads creates many of the most heartfelt moments along with the trials and terrors she had to experience herself as a child, many of which we see over the course of the film.
Gore filled from start to end Byung-gil Jung’s camera work is stylish and sublime getting extremely close at some points putting us in the middle of the chaotic combat while backing away at others so we get the full effect of the jaw dropping action effects.
From superbly choreographed fights to the John Woo-esque gun battles to a motorbike sword scene to the crazy climax which sees Sook-hee driving a car down the freeway from the bonnet while steering with an axe The Villainess delivers more action than 10 high budget Hollywood hits creating a kick ass iconic character in the process.
Best of all beyond the blood, bullets and bone breaking lays a brilliant and tragic storyline and powerful pathos creating central performance meaning the film will stay with you long after the sounds of violence stop.