The Villainess is a helter skelter revenge movie with an emotional heart. Directed by Jung Byung-gil (Confessions of a Murder) the film opens with a sensational and gory massacre sequence told in the first person. The villainess of the title, which is rather a misnomer, is Sook-hee, a young female assassin, subsequently caught by police and recruited by the South Korean Intelligence Agency for ten years.
The tagline “An Endless Vengeance Begins” proves only too true as we are catapulted into a fierce, but human story, told in flashbacks, as to the reasons Sook-hee seeks revenge.
As part of the female killing squad of the SKIA, Sook-hee is just one of the girls. To give herself an occupation she becomes a professional actress within the group, and gives birth to a daughter Eun-hye. Her story is revealed incrementally as she returns to memories of her past life. After a daring mission, she is released into the “real world”-a dreary apartment block-with her child, and undercover career as an actress. Unbeknownst to her, Hyun-soo (Jun Sung), her romantic neighbour, who moves into the apartment block on the same day as her, is in reality also an SKIA agent who has been groomed to keep tabs on her.
Ok-bin Kim is a tremendous force to be reckoned with as Sook-hee in a tale of cruelty and deception beyond belief. She is not only an action warrior, she also has to show real pain and emotion throughout the story. Her bond to the mysterious “Mister” (Joon-sang played with both malice and tenderness by Ha-kyun Shin) is heartbreaking, while her unbelievably cute daughter, Eun-hye (Yeon-woo Kim) gives her a maternal focus in her violent world. The actress playing the little daughter is superb, while Ha-kyun Shin gives a powerful performance as Sook-hee’s mentor, Joon-sang.
With amazing cinematography by Jung-hun Park – he manages to make the complex fight scenes look like continuous shots – there is one spectacular sequence where Sook-hee in black leather and killer heels sits on the bonnet of a car while driving it…a stunt which even Ethan Hunt is yet to do, The Villainess is not perfect by any means. The title is misleading, the story is confused and slightly muddled, but it succeeds where Atomic Blonde fails…it has a real heart.