There have been some fantastic action films over the past 25 years. Action films that have pole vaulted names like John McClane, John Wick and Mad Max into the social consciousness. Then there are a handful of action films to which all preceding action films are judged (The Matrix, The Raid). Films which leave audiences in a state of “WOW” and “Holy Shit” when screened for the first time.
The Villainess, the new action film by Buying-gil Jung is one of those films.
An opening 8-minute action sequence that was like watching John Wick and Hardcore Henry’s best moments meshed seamlessly in a bloody rampage, and had at least this screener sitting in the audience wondering ‘how the hell did they do that?’
The Villainess stars Ok-bin Kim as Sook-hee, an innocent enough looking young woman who through a series of violent events becomes a trained assassin for the South Korean government. Hey, let’s be honest – it can happen to any of us. Sook-hee fulfills her duties as instructed by her curious intention driven superiors but her past cannot be shaken and eventually her training, skills and unique ability to kick some serious ass will intersect her missions with her unfortunate history.
Sure, there’s a half descent story meandering thorough the over two-hour running time of The Villainess. And yes – the story is superior to most action films in its peer group. But the reality is, when one looks back on the fondness for The Villainess it is not the story, the characters or the layered performances that will be the focus of the recall. It will be the action. And the action is a clear A+ in quality.
Aforementioned, the film opens with an action reel that grabs you by the short and curlies and doesn’t let go. It’s a first-person shooter, stabber, fighter sequence that is unrivaled. Audiences hardly get a chance to catch them breath as our heroine moves from room to room butchering the more physically dominant group of male baddies. As the scene relentlessly continued I was making mental references to Oldboy, John Wick, Kill Bill and The Raid.
There are three really superior action reels throughout The Villainess including the opening and a chase and sword fight on speeding motorcycles that only further evoked the ‘how did they do that?’ vibe. The action sequences are so original, so well choreographed and executed that North American big budget studio action films should be embarrassed for all their shadow punching and CGI blood spewing entries.
I have no production notes detailing what Ok-bin Kim went through physically to pull off some of the elaborate stunts but after The Villainess, she can look to comparable action kick-asser Mila Jovovich and utter “Hold my beer”.
The Villainess was screened at Cannes and received a 4-minute standing ovation. It was part of Toronto’s After Dark Film Festival line-up and it was no less appreciated. Applause throughout the film was abundant (and appropriate) and audible “Woo’s!” were also commonplace.
Sook-hee might not have the charisma and comedic connection to audiences to be heralded amongst the John Rambo’s or Sarah Connor’s of the film world, but The Villainess can lay claim to being one of the best action films ever put to film.