Writer/Director: Byung-gil Jung
Starring: Ok-bin Kim, Jun Sung, Seo-hyeong Kim, Ha-kyun Shin
A review by Stephanie Cooke
2017 is the year of the female assassin. Between Atomic Blonde, Proud Mary, Red Sparrow, and The Villainess, filmmakers are proving that women can dominate the genre and bring in people to the box office. A movement that I am absolutely HERE FOR.
I got to watch the South Korean film The Villainess as a part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. It was my #1 Must See movie for the entire festival. Each movie for the festival was shown with a short film before the main feature kicked off. The short before The Villainess was called The Good Samaritan by Darrin Suzuki and it was fantastic. Definitely try to find it, if you can. It featured a great performance by Storm Steenson as a young woman who flees from an unknown captor and seeks the aid of a passerby on the road. I don’t want to give away any more of the short than that, just in case you’re able to find it. It would be a disservice to not let you go in fresh. Again, it was great though. It set the stage for an evening of awesome genre cinema.
The Villainess stars Ok-bin Kim as Sook-hee aka the title character, who’s never really called that but, you know… Sook-hee has turned into a lethal killing machine in an effort to hunt down the man who murdered her father. During one of her sprees, she’s caught by the authorities who see potential in her as a recruit for a covert agency. Thus sets off a whole chain of events that lead us through the film which clocks in at just over two hours long.
When the film first starts out, we’re watching things through the eyes of our main character. Not quite literally, but that’s the intended effect. The action is all first person (like last year’s film, Hardcore Henry) and it was hella disorienting. I had a moment when I thought “Oh geez… if the whole film is like this, I might need to leave…” Thankfully, it ceased after the initial opening scene.
That being said, when I was able to focus on the film during those first few minutes, it was a fantastic blaze of glory as our leading lady ruthlessly cuts down person after person to get to her target. The fight choreography was absolutely ridiculous but in the best possible way. The cast and stunt doubles must’ve worked super hard on it to really nail the moves, so that when we’re up close and personal like we were (again, first person shooter style), it looked right. Or maybe it would be the opposite? Either way, it looked great… except for the camera angle stuff.
There are a couple other shaky cam scenes where we’re in high speed chases and the cam is loaded on, say, a motorcycle (as an example). While that’s a tad jarring at times, I can appreciate trying to switch up how the action scenes were shot and taking a fresh approach to the look of The Villainess.
Byung-gil Jung wrote and directed the film. You may know him from Confession of Murder (2012). I didn’t, but you might. The fella who introduced the film spoke about Jung a little bit and mentioned that he was a stuntman (I think??) and because of his work in that area, he’s brought a lot of his knowledge there over to the films he makes. The Villainess was largely shot as-is with very little CGI incorporated (again, from what I was told), which is incredible. There are some crazy scenes and with so many people using CGI in place of live action, I can respect people who still take the time to do things the old fashioned way.
Now, I do want to mention a few things that I didn’t love…
One of the biggest things that I noticed while watching the film was the score. I don’t know exactly what it was that didn’t quite work for me, but it took me out of the film in several spots. It also didn’t do a great job of helping to convey the story. Music is a big thing for me in film so when it’s off, I really notice. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but it was something that I noticed enough to make mental note of along the way.
The film was also a bit of a mess in some places. There was a lot to be desired from some of the characters, as well as the overall story arcs, but much of that was forgivable. I enjoyed watching Ok-bin Kim so much in her role that despite being taken out of the film a few times, it was a great rollercoaster that kept the momentum going. There were definitely moments of predictability but again, I enjoyed the film and the journey that we took to get there.
Going back to some of the more positive aspects now…
The entire cast was fabulous. I already sung the praises of Ok-bin Kim but Jun Sung, Seo-hyeong Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, and everyone else did such solid jobs in each of their respective roles. I don’t have any bad things to say about anyone in the film.
Byung-gil Jung did an amazing job at guiding the cast to execute his vision and despite the fact that I felt the story could’ve been a little bit stronger overall, the performances and the crazy fight scenes made the whole movie completely worth it for me.
Watch it! It seems unlikely that The Villlainess will get a wide release across North America, but if does happen to come to a theatre near you, make sure you support a great South Korean film and check it out. There’s no current date for it to be out on VOD (although it’s expected on Nov 7) but if you can’t see it on the big screen, definitely make time to watch it at home or wherever you watch stuff these days.