The Villainess is an exquisitely synchronised, photogenically homicidal revenge symphony from South Korea, and it is determined to elevate the extreme action flick into the realms of hyperkinetic high art.
After laying apocalyptic waste to a meth-den, the pregnant Sook-hee finds herself in the clutches of a morally shady assassination agency and enrolled in a sort of underground Swiss finishing school for femme fatales.
She is given a ten-year long time frame in which to earn a shot at a normal life with her offspring, but the Doomsday Clock is ticking down far quicker than she knows and the past is soon snapping at her well-sprung heels.
The rest of the plot is labyrinthine, to say the least, with elements of Kill Bill, Luc Besson’s Nikita, Oldboy and any imposter category Rom-Com you care to call to mind, knitted together beneath a mesh of sentimentality. The narrative waters are further muddied by incessant flashbacks and parallel timelines. The best way to keep track is to use the facial scarring of the characters as chronological signposts.
This is writer/director Byung-gil Jung’s first gig since the ambitious serial-killer thriller Confession of Murder(2012). He obviously had a lot of pent-up talent to release because The Villainess screams out of the blocks faster and meaner than Usain Bolt with angry fire ants on his gonads.
Cinematographer Jung-hun Park and stunt coordinator Kwon Gui-duck are at the intoxicating flashing-point of their professions as they bring a sense of stylistic charisma to every garish arterial spray and long take show-off skirmish. Highlights include a motorbike sword fight that is bona fide bat-shit bonkers and an audacious mirror shot that will give cinema geeks the goosebumps.
The ass-kickery to skullduggery ratio becomes skewed towards the latter in the patchy middle third and the film does suffer under the eye-popping weight of some of its own powerhouse processions of fury. But then again, to its lasting credit, so will every other action picture you watch after The Villainess.
As soon as you clap eyes on the first impossibly slick set piece, with its freewheeling POV camera work and fish eye lensed butchery, it’s blatantly apparent that The Villainess is in love with itself. However, by the time Sook-hee has executed her magnum opus of mega-violence to its exhilarating blood-drenched ends, you will be too.
Decoding all the exhausting connivance in The Villainess is a bit of a chore but the carnage in between is so awe-inspiringly classy it’s certainly worth making your head-spin in order to have your jaw dropped.
An intricately embroidered gauntlet has been thrown down by The Villainess that signals a brutal new adaptation in the evolution of extreme action cinema. Over to you Gareth Evans.
Bradley Hadcroft | [rating=5]
Revenge Thriller, Extreme Action | South Korea, 2017 | 123 mins | – Strong bloody violence | Arrow Films | UK Cinemas and Digital HD 15 September. 2017 | Dir. Byung-gil Jung | Cast. Ok-bin Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, Jun Sung