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Film review: The Villainess – Kim Ok-vin plays killing machine in action thriller

She may be trained to kill, but Ok-vin’s violent character still remains trapped as a pawn ‘in an exclusively male world’ created by writer-director Jung Byung-gil

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2017, 10:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 12:03pm

3/5 stars

After making waves with 2012’s Confession of Murder, writer-director Jung Byung-gil’s follow-up delivers some of the most kinetic action sequences ever witnessed in a South Korean film. It’s a pity, however, that The Villainess falls back hard into misogyny and melodrama whenever it’s not making heads spin with its dizzying camerawork and impossible acrobatics.

Kim Ok-vin ( Thirst ) gives an impressively physical performance as Sook-hee, recruited into a secret government agency after decimating a building full of bad guys in a blistering first-person introduction. Released back into society following a rigorous regime of ballet and theatre – in addition to lethal combat training – Sook-hee becomes a sleeper assassin, while company stooge Hyun-soo (Sung Jun) is installed next door as her monitor and love interest.

Echoes of Luc Besson’s Nikita resonate throughout The Villainess, as does The Raid , Hardcore Henry and numerous other action hits – and the film fares best when it steers towards these similarities. But Jung’s inventive set pieces also sap the film of its energy, often struggling to remain coherent in its quiet, bloodless moments.

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Forcing Sook-hee to juggle a young daughter, burgeoning romance, meddling ex-husband (Shin Ha-kyun) and overly complicated time structure, burdens her quest for vengeance with a lot of melodramatic baggage.

While Wonder Woman has seen Hollywood feminism flex some muscle with grace and compassion, The Villainess is gifted no such freedom. For all the jaw-dropping, cartwheeling exploits meted out by Sook-hee and her classmates, these women remain weaponised pawns in an exclusively male world. The fact that they look so sexy and stylish doing it might also be part of the problem.

The Villainess opens on June 22

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