The once-vibrant South Korean action movie movement has slowed. What was a steady wave of semi-righteous vengeance sagas has reduced down to a trickle of straight-to-video exports. On the bright side, when one of them does still manage to make it to American theaters, they’re usually worth the ticket price.
The absurdly flashy The Villainess takes a sure-fire exploitation premise—a female assassin attempts to start a new life, while also reluctantly continuing to thin out the world’s thug population—and goes for absolute, ridiculously overt broke. If you’re a fan of the genre, this perpetual motion machine is really something to see. And recoil from, occasionally.
Introduced via an extended whopper of a first-person shootout/stabathon, the plot follows a surgically reconstructed killer savant (Ok-bin Kim), whose history of insane violence results in her doing the dirty work for a shadowy government organization. When she tries to leave the business with her young daughter, however, she finds that her splattery past has a way of catching up with her.
Director Byung-gil Jung whiplashes between timeframes at a fever pitch, rhythmically mixing his heroine’s origin story with her present in ways that are sometimes impressively resonant, and occasionally just needlessly jumbled. Thankfully, whenever the narrative threatens to get too fragmented, something like a 6-way motorcycle sword fight will break out, and the head-down momentum quickly ramps back up.
As creatively frenzied as its set pieces are, what really makes The Villainess work is the presence of its lead actress, whose ability to turn on a dime between ferally crazed and dead-eyed flinty keeps things continually hopping, even generating a bit of genuine pathos during her character’s considerable low points. And then she picks up a hatchet, jumps on a bus crammed full of hapless goons, and balance is restored.
See Movie Times For Screening Location and Schedule for This Frenzied Whopper of a Film.