Go with a strong stomach to see this insanely overcranked action-thriller from South Korean director Jung Byung-gil.
“The Villainess,” an insanely overcranked action-thriller from South Korean director Jung Byung-gil, begins with the sort of sequence that seems designed to clear most of the theater, until only those with cast-iron stomachs remain.
With little fanfare and even less context, the film thrusts us into the shoes of a deadly assassin named Sook-Hee (Kim Ok-vin) as she shoots and slashes her way through what seems to be an entire building’s worth of armed-to-the-teeth thugs, a brutal revenge mission that sends blood gushing and broken glass flying in every direction.
‘The Villainess,’ with Kim Ok-vin, Kim Seo-hyung, Kim Yeon-woo. Directed by Jung Byung-gil, from a screenplay by Jung and Jung Byeong-sik. 129 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. SIFF Cinema Uptown.
The Los Angeles Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
The intensely subjective point of view and squish-squish sound effects lend the carnage a terrible first-person intimacy in this tale of a butt-kicking antiheroine forced to serve the government agency that created her.
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We see that creation story once Sook-Hee ends her rampage (for the moment) and is taken into custody by Korean intelligence, at which point the camera assumes a more traditional point of view. But it stays close to Sook-Hee as she undergoes some lethal vocational training from a steely female handler (the formidable Kim Seo-hyung), who tells her that, if she does the government’s bidding without questioning, she will be released in 10 years.
Sook-Hee has no real choice but to comply, especially since she has recently given birth to a daughter, Eun-hye (Kim Yeon-woo), and wants her to have as normal an upbringing as she can. The identity of Eun-hye’s father turns out to be linked to the reasons Sook-Hee shot up that building in the first place.
While I’m generally inclined to applaud an action movie that seeks to be more than just an exercise in carnage, “The Villainess” turns wearingly stop-and-go whenever it tries to fill in the void of its protagonist’s emotional and psychological history. Junghas a brutally effective way with action, but his attempts at character-driven storytelling (he co-wrote the script with Jung Byeong-sik) are not as well served by the same kind of calculated, mechanized efficiency.