Words by Chris Eastwood
Watching the opening and finale of The Villainess make for a hair raising experience, it is the kind of white knuckle, face-meltingly exciting ride you expect at Thorpe Park not in a darkened room with a large Coke. The two sequences play like Jonas Akerland’s “Smack my Bitch up” video for The Prodigy only given a gun licence, a shot of adrenaline and allowed to play with the big kids. They left me screaming and howling at the screen like a madman begging for more. However, their visual gymnastics also achieve something incredible in that they show so much yet leave so much to the imagination, barely showing our protagonist as she fights through armies of people. In fact it’s fun to let your mind conjure up her path as she’s scything through enemies like an amped up version of Doom. The two exciting bookends also help counter the labyrinthine plotting that lies at the heart of the picture.
Byung-gil Jung tells us a tale of an assassin captured, retrained and unleashed by a shadowy agency whilst at the same time pursuing a rip roaring rampage of revenge and raising her infant daughter. Its story twists and turns like the aforementioned rollercoaster.
To give much more of a synopsis hints at plot points that are more fun to discover on the ride than read about here, plus I wouldn’t go into The Villainess hoping to understand every development. Its joy is getting lost down the rabbit hole as the story morphs and switches its game plan. At one point it’s a revenge thriller then an action movie and before you know it makes a sharp turn in the second act to become a romantic drama before exploding into another frenetic round of hyper-violence.
These genre splices left me with the feeling of having watched a Greek tragedy in terms of emotion and scope of story, glimpsing a character holding a theatre ticket for a production of Medea half way through seemed to emphasise this. However with these myriad elements all together your head can start to spin a bit and I found myself getting a little frustrated before deciding to let the rest of the film wash over me and be taken along for the remainder of the ride.
The film plays its stakes so high though and the cast have such conviction in their journeys it’s very easy to be swept up. Ok-bin Kim as the titular anti-hero is daring in her performance, giving us everything she has to offer in the physical sequences whilst providing us with nuance and empathy during the quieter moments. She gets great support from Jun Sung, playing her love interest, who provides a good counterpoint to her anguish and ferocity, the film also has one of the most joyful, unaware child performances I’ve seen.
All this and some of the most barmy images committed to film (sniper bride! Tomahawk steering wheel madness! Motorway bus fight! Oh My!) make The Villainess a hell of an afternoon, the passion, scale and kinetic energy up on the screen will bleed into the auditorium, allow yourself to get soaked in it.