Fantasia 2017: The Villainess
Opening with a crazy action sequence with a high body count (think Hardcore Henry meets the Crazy 88 fight from Kill Bill), The Villainess sets itself up for greatness very early on. Female assassin Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin) is a deadly force to be reckoned with, and watching her viciously mow down various bad guys throughout the film’s first 20 minutes (which have more frenzied action than your average Hollywood blockbuster) is nothing short of exhilarating.
Where The Villainess loses its footing is when it makes a drastic tonal switch, shedding its suspenseful exterior for melodrama, as it attempts to build a background for its leading character via numerous flashbacks. We find out that Sook-hee had been trained for this line of work from an early age, but a surprising turn of events leads to her getting a second chance, via agreeing to work as a sleeper cell agent for South Korea’s national intelligence agency. The opportunity to live something of a normal life is a major change for her, but of course, given the film’s genre, the past rears its ugly head and before long, Sook-hee has to fight for her life for any chance at freedom.
Kim, best known for her role in director Park Chan-wook’s twist on the vampire subgenre Thirst, does what she can with the role when it comes to character development, but it’s really in the film’s numerous fight scenes that one really feels invested in the story. There are definite similarities to be found to her past collaborator's work throughout, specifically his Vengeance trilogy, and once those comparisons start to rear their head, the overarching production begins to lose its luster. Nearly non-stop, The Raid-esque action can only entertain for so long before it starts to feel limp, and unfortunately, the secondary offering that director Jung Byung-il attempts to instill doesn’t get as far as it should.
Nevertheless, The Villainess does have its moments, and the first act alone contains several applause-worthy moments. Those lucky enough to see the film with an audience will be in for a good time, for sheer sensation and thrills. It’s not hard to see why the film received a 4-minute standing ovation during the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, as it grabs the viewer from the very start and, while not completely successful, tries really hard to not make them want to let go. Action junkies and fans of world genre cinema are more than likely to rep the film as one of 2017’s best towards the end of the year; those looking for something more than pure kineticism are unlikely to be as swayed.