The Villainess (2017)

Thrills and a lot of spills

My initial reaction to the first few minutes of the film was one of bewilderment. It looked like a computer game where we followed the POV of female assassin Sook-hee as she ruthlessly disposed of 67 hired goons (my count). But after this frenzied pre-credit sequence things begin to make sense, a little.

After her incredible fighting scenes are discovered, Sook-hee is hired to join an all-female hit squad, and alongside lessons in combat and weapon use they are taught domestic skills in order to prepare them for life outside.

In terms of emotional attachment, there is a young daughter from her first marriage, presumably before she joined the task force (although the chronology is hard to follow and it might take multiple viewings to put all the strands together).

We’ve seen a lot of these blood-soaked revenge epics, but it’s unusual to see a woman in the lead. (Korean cinema is heavily male dominated).

The film becomes even more interesting when Sook-hee falls in love with her neighbour after she moves out of the collective, only for her to eventually learn that he has been following orders from the very same organisation she has just left. These scenes are less convincing than the action and the soppy scenes are somewhat unnecessary to the film. The director could have a nice sideline in TV melodramas if the action ideas dry up.

In an attempt to stay calm and anchored, Sookhee joins a professional acting company (some of the lines are somewhat intense and high-flown, not helped by the clunky subtitles). I’d love to have seen more of these scenes, but they only popped up a few times.

The final battle on the top of a bus is thrillingly done, although I didn’t know why so many people were being killed. It might not be the easiest film to follow but if you go along for the ride you will be sure to enjoy it.

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