Starring: Kim Ok-bin, Shin Ha-kyun, Sung Joon
Director: Jung Byung-gil
Running Time: 129 mins
The Villainess is a South Korean film about a female assassin who, years after having been wronged, sets out on a trail of revenge, laying everyone who stands in her way to waste.
Female assassin thrillers have been on the rise in recent years, and it’s a genre that’s thrown up some absolute delights. Furie, Atomic Blonde, The Rhythm Section and more have brought real style and modern energy to what was becoming a painfully dull genre almost entirely dominated by Liam Neeson.
However, The Villainess sadly isn’t another addition to the ever-strengthening genre. While it certainly impresses when it comes to large-scale action and excitement, there’s very little to write home about when it comes to its story and style, proving a painfully dull watch that lacks all of the spectacle it pretends to possess.
There’s a lot about The Villainess that proves incredibly frustrating, but if there’s one thing that makes the film almost unwatchable at times, it’s the action cinematography and choreography.
With sleek pulp thrillers the fashion nowadays, it’s strange to see a film that seems almost ten years out of date with its shaky-cam, POV camerawork, forgoing any clever or stylish filming techniques for dull and dizzying visuals throughout.
Couple that with fight choreography that feels like little more than a half-hearted copy of Oldboy, The Raid and John Wick, and the movie’s big, action-packed fight sequences are barely enjoyable, and more often than not difficult to sit through.
The dark, gloomy cinematography does occasionally lend a degree of grit to proceedings, although it’s clumsily mixed with neon lights in an attempt to bring a bit of that pulp vibe to the table.
As a result, The Villainess proves a film that’s so obsessed with action, and yet fails entirely to make it an entertaining part of its own story. The scale and intensity of the action is to be commended, but it’s not used to any good effect.
Alongside the action, the film tries to craft an intense revenge thriller plot, but misses the mark as it falls into convoluted genre tropes that make it a whole lot harder to follow.
Unlike modern classics of the genre like John Wick and Furie, The Villainess tries too hard to bring complex and intricate thrills to what should be a pure celebration of action and violence. The best films in the genre put all the effort into exciting, spectacular action, and tell a simple, enjoyable and engaging story on the side.
The Villainess tries to do it all, and in doing so fails to do anything right. There’s no emotional resonance, as the story is generally predictable and unimaginative throughout, and its twists and big revelations are underwhelming and unearned throughout.
Overall, I was hugely disappointed by The Villainess. A film with all the potential in the world to become the next great pulp female assassin thriller, it squanders big-scale action with a frustrating and outdated style, all the while fumbling a frankly dull and overly convoluted story throughout. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 5.6.