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The Villainess - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2017

Action, Crime, Drama

Jung Byung-gil

Kim Ok-bin
Shin Ha-kyun
Sung Joon
Kim Seo-hyung
Jo Eun-ji
Lee Seung-joo

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The Villainess

The Villainess - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin) is looking for her father's killer. She runs into some very dangerous men and is rescued by the gangster Joong-sang (Shin Ha-kyun). She marries him, eventually, but he gets killed and she goes on a bloody revenge trip. At the end of this trip she gets arrested by the police. Instead of being put into prison, though, she is recruted by a secret government special ops unit that wants to train her into becoming a professional killer. But Sook-hee rather wants to kill herself. However, the leader of the unit, Kwon Sook (Kim Seo-hyung), informs her that she is pregnant. If the killer works for the government the next ten years she can expect to live a free life with her daughter after that. Sook-hee doesn't have any choice but to agree. When her training is concluded she gets a new identity and starts living in an apartment with her daughter. Her neighbor Hyun-soo (Sung Joon) has an obvious interest in her, which is no surprise since he has been assigned by Kwon Sook to keep an eye on the killer. His mission is to marry her, so that he is always close to her in case he needs to act if she becomes a renegade again. When a ghost of the past suddenly emerges this could happen sooner than later...

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Review: "The Villainess" is one of the best action films of the last few years. And on an international level, too. This bold statement is put in front of this review to more or less step by step back it up with arguments. In fact, the first introductory sequence should be enough of an argument, in which we see a true massacre carried out - right through the eyes of the female protagonist. The feeling of being sucked right into the action has been achieved in movies by a camera clinging to the hero before, as in jumps through windows where the cameraman follows, but also in action scenes like those in "Kingsman". But all of those movie simply make use of one certain stylistic device which has led another medium to the top as the most immersive one (imho): video games. Because this medium has the luxury to allow for cinematic camera movements which normally wouldn't be possible in reality.

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This is where director Jung Byung-gil comes into play, who has already created an outstanding thriller with his "Confession of Murder", and thanks to extremely clever camera tricks, editing and CGI support he manages to recreate this feeling of total immersion whose poster boys on video game consoles are the "Uncharted" series or the reboot of the "Tomb Raider" franchise. The first person perspective of the introduction seamlessly switches to an outward angle, but the hyper-dynamic camera work (mind you: "dynamic" not simply "shaky"!) which goes from around, over, under, behind and close beside the female protagonist, actually doesn't really let us believe what we are seeing. How could they shoot such scenes? When taking a closer look there are a few hidden cuts to be made out, but even when noticing this it doesn't slow down the breathtaking pacing.

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There may be critics who regard this to he a typical product of a YouTube generation which because of their short attention span can only deal with fast editing and garish pictures. But what exactly is the alternative? There is a rather classic shootout scene in "The Villainess" and the first thought coming to mind is: "Oh yeah, that's how boring action scenes usually look like!" The great strong point of this immersive action style is its unpredictability. We don't know which direction the camera will move into or which enemy Sook-hee is about to take out next and most importantly, how. Everything happens ultra-fast and with an exquisitely honest brutality which reminds us of 90s action flicks, and the shock caused by what we see and the adrenaline being pumped through our veins, pushes our heart-rate higher and higher. So the bottom line is that there are finally new ideas to be made out in the action genre and you can simply hope that "The Villainess" is the first of a series of other flicks of this kind to come.

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Unfortunately, it becomes pretty obvious after the incredible first action scene that this is a level the movie won't be able to reach again. The finale comes close to it, though. In any case, the action remains brutal and no one in the movie is safe from dying. However, the film inevitably needs to shift down a few gears. Then, the plot follows a little bit that of Luc Besson's "Nikita". A few at first rather disorientating flashbacks introduce us more to Sook-hee's character and show what traumata have shaken her mind. Not to mention her present in which she is a cold-blooded killer who hopes to lead a normal life with her daughter and her new boyfriend. It's just that latter one has been hired to keep an eye on her. As if this weren't enough there is also a big twist which reveals a villain which actually isn't one for Sook-hee. This may make this flick seem a bit overloaden, but it also helps to bestow a bit more complexity upon the female killer.

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It's still not easy to suffer alongside Sook-hee a hundred percent on a dramatic level, but this also doesn't seem to be the intention either. We in fact see the development of someone who, as the title already states, is on the path of becoming a villain. Can anything stop this dizziness-inducing vortex of violence, which is underlined perfectly by the style of the action sequences? Kim Ok-bin ("Thirst") delivers a cold performance, but is allowed to show more emotions towards the end which almost resemble a volcanic eruption, and Shin Ha-kyun ("Running Man") gives his character a few facets of mysteriousness. Granted, the dramatic moments might not be able to hold a candle to the action. But especially towards the end there are still a few scenes which actually make you suspect some depth within the individuals. The very familiar revenge theme has seldomly been realized so originally since "Oldboy", which the director clearly tips his hat to by the way, and we can only hope that this spectacular action ride opens the floodgates to a new subgenre of action cinema!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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