Movie Review: The Villainess

Return of Lady Vengeance.


Go Well USA

Among the several nuts-o-rama action scenes in The Villainess, a new movie from South Korean frenzy specialist Jung Byung-gil, is an entirely crazed auto chase in which the bad-ass lady of the title, pursuing a bus full of thugs, blows out the windshield of her car, climbs out onto the hood—with one hand stretched back inside to continue steering—then rises up and leaps onto the outside of the bus, hanging on desperately as the wind thwacks her around and the heavily armed bad guys inside make things even more difficult. Then…

Well, let's just say the scene goes on for a while, and it doesn't get any less delirious. Jung is a director for whom too much is always just the right amount—a compliment, of course. With its swarming squads of black-suited assassins, its overload of guns, swords and corpses, and its cold-eyed killer women, his movie blithely recalls such earlier revenge thrillers as the Kill Bills, the John Wicks (already a part of the international action pantheon), and La Femme Nikita, with maybe a faint whiff of the old Japanese "Baby Cart" pictures as well (little kids make several intrusions here).

I suppose someone somewhere might offer a hat tip to Jung for leavening his virtuoso mayhem with interludes of low-key chat and nuzzly sentiment; I wouldn't be among those people, however. Because every moment in this movie in which someone isn't taking a hatchet to the head or a barbell to the knees is a moment lost to creeping ennui. Jung appears to have no interest in linear storytelling, and his penchant for sudden flashbacks is disorienting. The script, by the director and his brother, Byeong-sik Jung, a writer of comic books, gives us two adult versions of the film's protagonist, a fierce young woman named Sook-hee. We also meet her as a little girl when Jung takes us back into her childhood, where we see her peering out from under a bed as her father is murdered before her eyes by an unseen killer (who for some reason is whistling "When You and I Were Young, Maggie").

With all of the who/what/where involved, I'm still not sure I've completely grasped the story here. Jung launches the movie with another of his way-over-the-top action eruptions—a mysterious figure creeping down the puke-green hallway of an urban meth lab, an outburst of splattery arterial hubbub as this character fends off what seems like a legion of attackers. The shadowy interloper is eventually revealed to be Sook-hee, and very quickly a top intelligence chief named Kwon (steely Seo-hyeong Kim) decides that she would be a worthy addition to the agency's assassination program. Although Sook-hee's personal goal is to track down and terminate the man who killed her father, Kwon is very persuasive. Sook-hee signs up and is given all the usual training in the lethal arts, as well as a heavy overlay of plastic surgery (from which she emerges in the form of a new actress, Kim Ok-bin, star of the Park Chan-wook vampire flick Thirst). She is then installed in a Seoul apartment building, where her new neighbor—a young guy named Hyun-soo (Sung Jun)—immediately starts making cute with her. Like Sook-hee, he also has deep secrets.

Most of the movie's narrative exposition can be justified, I guess. If only there weren't so much of it—especially since the picture is overlong at two hours and nine minutes and could use a trim. Far more fun is setting out with Sook-hee on one of her violent intel assignments—there's a great one in a geisha house, and a classic how-on-earth-did-they-shoot-that motorcycle chase through a tunnel that seems unlikely to be equaled anytime soon). The action scenes show off the film's strongest components: Park Jung-hun's extraordinary hand-held cinematography; Heo Sun-mi's scalpel-sharp editing; and the great clattery score by Koo Ja wan, which sounds like an earthquake in a cowbell factory (in a good way). This stuff speaks for itself.

NEXT: Huge Pension Fund Makes Example of Tiny California City

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  1. What!?! Why hasn’t Trump put a stop to this?

    American action movie directors are getting *raped* by cheap South Korean knock-offs who are stealing American gaffer and choreographer jobs while the multi-nationals make a quick buck. Plus, they’re bringing in Triads, they’re bringing in K-pop, they’re sex slaves… Some, I assume, are non-gook people.

    It is time to for America to get its sovereignty back! And so, we are going to build a big, beautiful THAAD missile launcher to shoot down their airliners before they can get here… And South Korea will pay for that THAAD missile launcher!

    1. He hasn’t stopped it because it makes for the sort of joke you could appreciate:

      An American GI stationed in Korea fools around with and knocks up a local girl. He decides he must do the right thing, so he marries her. When the baby his born, her grandparents on both sides start arguing about what the baby’s name should be. The arguing keeps escalating and just won’t stop.
      The soldier, feeling frustrated and annoyed, starts to storm out of the room for a cigarette outside. Shaking his head as he walks by the arguing group, he loudly mutters, “All this trouble over one dumb f*ck!”
      Both sets of grandparents look at him and start to smile. “Yes Yes” they say in heavily accented English. “You right! Perfect name. Baby boy will be called One Dum Fuk!”

      1. 7.5/10 Would Chuckle Again

      2. Change One to Wan at the end there and you’d have something.

      3. That’s better than the joke which starts with naming the baby after the first thing Dad sees when he goes outside…and the joke quality declines from there…

        1. +2 Dogs Fucking

  2. So, this movie sounds horrible. Visual junk food for morons.

    1. Can’t wait for the Bengali remake of the Turkish remake….especially if it has musical interludes.

  3. Drones, Kurt. They film those scenes with drones.

  4. Gratuitous CGI has made action films too stupid to watch. Hong Kong flicks with Jackie Chan and many others breathed some life back into the genre up to the early 90’s, but many of those films made up for their lack of a coherent plot with brilliant stunts, humor, and likeable actors, and then Tarantino incorporated that into his formula. But since then, there’s been nothing new for producers to offer apart from 30-45 minutes of digital footage broken up by pointless dialog. If they were interested in telling a story, I might go to the theaters again.

  5. There really is nothing exciting about a car chase, especially a fake one.

    1. unless you’re in the car, or hanging off the fender…

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