The Villainess, Jung Byung-Gil’s demented take on La Femme Nikita,—or, alternately, any number of female-driven Hong Kong action flicks—has a number of eye-popping set-pieces that are as literal an interpretation of the term “motion picture” as you’re likely to come across. The first of these comes right at the top: a seven-minute sequence featuring heroine Sook-hee (Kim Ok-vin) mowing down dozens of burly guys in a meth lab as a deliriously violent scene, stitched together in an illusory single take and filmed to resemble a first-person shooter video game. It throws down a bloody gauntlet.
Other bids for action-film immortality include a motorcycle chase/gun battle in a narrow tunnel; a bloody geisha room showdown; and the jaw-dropper of a finale, which has Sook-hee slashing away at her mortal enemy/former lover (Shin Ha-kyun) while on board a speeding bus. If Jung had stuck to showcasing his talent for these kinds of inspired, outlandish sequences, he would’ve had a consistently exciting (if derivative) and scrappy little movie. Instead, he ill-advisedly opts to muddy the waters with a convoluted, melodramatic narrative that makes for an unstable marriage with the outrageous action. This also undercuts the film’s female empowerment potential by having Sook-hee’s actions almost entirely determined by her maternal instincts and the men in her life, whether they be father figures, lovers, or in one case, both.
Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 3.