Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Villainess (악녀) - Movie Review

The Movie: The Villainess (악녀)

The Director: Jung Byung-gil

The Cast: Kim Ok-bin, Sung, Joon, Shin Ha-kyun, Bang Sung-jun, Kim Seo-hyung

The Story: A woman assassin leaves a trail of bodies behind her as she seeks revenge.

The Review:
In Hollywood, the female action hero is on the rise with movies like Atomic Blonde and the upcoming Proud Mary getting a lot of attention. Of course, the South Korean film industry is always a few steps ahead when it comes to this type of thing and Jung Byung-gil's entry into the newly formed genre is going to be the one others get compared to. The action is fierce, non stop, and pretty bloody from beginning to end with lots of breathtaking innovations when it comes to camera techniques and stunt work. All the expected influences are there from Tarantino to John Wick although what sets it apart is how the first person shooter perspective the video game world is used to seeing is added into the mix in some very unique ways.

It's not just the fact that we get this added view, but how it is incorporated seamlessly into the action shots. Cinematographer Park Jung-hun weaves in and out of the action, circling around it, flying above it, following it, and then jumping in and out of first person all in an effort to keep you just as on edge as the characters in the story. While this whirlwind of imagery could be confusing to the eyes and brain, it actually works beautifully I think partly because it is never overused. The director seemed to know exactly when to pull back and let everyone involved take a collective breath before launching into the next bit of choreographed mayhem. The motorcycle chase, pictured below, is a prime example of everything I just touched on and is up there with the car chase in The Raid: Berendal as some of the best of its kind.

Going back to the story, there is plenty of classic South Korean drama mixed in with all the action with love triangles, family issues, and personal demons all playing a part. As you might expect, when the action stops, the story is long on drama and emotional manipulation although I never really got that big emotional punch that I was hoping for. That being said, the story was very well told and takes nothing away from the entertainment value even if it is a bit too familiar in some areas. For example, the first half of the movie is nearly an exact rehash of Luc Besson's classic Le Femme Nikita criminal turned spy tale and then the second half literally fights its way through all the standard beats you would expect from a tale of loss and revenge.

With the basic story in place, it would be up to the action and the acting to elevate the film into something special and this is exactly what sets it apart from other similar films. Kim Ok-bin is absolutely fantastic in the lead role and she easily carries the film from beginning to end. During the action scenes, she is very believable which of course always benefits from great camera work and editing, but her presence on screen is what ultimately sells the character. Where she really shines is during the quieter and more emotional times as she is able to display a range of acting abilities. Sung Joon is also good as the love interest and fellow spy and he handles both aspects very nicely using humor and charm to play off of Kim's turmoil and angst.

The Verdict:
While Wonder Woman may be the super hero of the summer, The Villainess is the anti hero we have been waiting for. This is easily one of the best action movies of the year. If you like Atomic Blonde, The Raid, or John Wick, you have to see this movie.

The Villainess is an official selection of the 2017 Hawaii International Film Festival. coverage of the 2017 Hawaii International Film Festival.

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