By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
It certainly looks like The Villainess is being positioned to be this year’s big crossover Korean hit, debuting at Cannes just like The Wailing and A Hard Day, and making a pretty high-profile run through quite a few top-notch subsequent film festivals to boot. So, how does it stack up?
Good luck being as awesome as The Wailing
The Villainess stars Thirst’s Kim Ok-bin as a human weapon who’s been doomed to play a pawn role in various assassin power struggles since she was 9 or so years old. Having been taken in by perhaps the most polished and hard-hearted agency of all, will she get a chance to avenge the murder of her father and husband and keep her daughter safe, or are there more surprising machinations in store (there are).
The Villainess opens with a pure statement of purpose, a first-person point of view hallway throwdown that is like a big middle finger to Oldboy‘s all-time classic hallway hammer fight. And, while I don’t give it quite those laurels, it’s a pretty fucking awesome fight, one of many in a film that begrudgingly lets up for the plot, but is always itching to get to another thrillingly choreographed, bone-crunching melee of brutality. Pure action hounds will find what they’re looking for here.
Kim does an excellent job anchoring the film as well, never less than believable as a badass that would put most action stars to shame, while also displaying an emotional vulnerability that makes it easy to empathize with this one-person WMD. Finally, Jeong Byeong-gil’s direction is polished and often thrillingly experimental in his quest to put you as close to the copious action as possible, and stages some gorgeous stills to boot. Hollywood, pay attention- he could replace the Pierre Morels and McGs of the world without breaking a sweat.
The first person/Hardcore Henry POV action shooting style has a ton of potential, and some very distinct drawbacks. There’s the whole videogame-esque unreality, but for my money, the most annoying thing is noticing things the main character should have, and which should be causing them mortal danger, but doesn’t. Seriously, does every knife-wielding henchman seriously sit and wait their turn? What gentlemen.
As is often the case with Korean genre fare, The Villainess hits a near obligatory two hours by layering on the twists and double-crosses to an ultimately confusing degree. It’s impressive that a film can telegraph who the big bads are going to really be from the very start, and yet thoroughly confuse you on the journey to revealing them as to how they relate to the protagonist and her past.
The ending (not the often amazing bus-fight, instigated by a hatchet-wielding Kim propelling herself onto a bus off a car superhero-like) is dumb. She faces down the police, after all the insanity and emotional turmoil that preceded her murdering every evil bastard in her way, and… breaks into a crazy-person cackle? What?
Oh, and how does the title apply exactly? Who’s the villainess in this scenario?
The Villainess brings the thrills as well as any Hollywood action film you’re likely to see this year. Too bad the plotting wasn’t nearly on par.
The Villainess (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every kitchen scene
Take a Drink: every time the camera goes to the First Person POV
Take a Drink: every time you see a sledgehammer
Do a Shot: for every doublecross and/or big reveal that you probably saw coming