By Dave B.
The first scene in The Villainess (2017, currently on Hulu) is already legendary. It’s a seemingly single-take, 10-minute long, mostly first-person fight scene for the ages with a ridiculously high body count that introduces us to our protagonist, the “femme fatale”, Sook-hee (Ok-bin Kim). Fortunately, this South Korean action movie offers more than just a stellar opening sequence.
In The Villainess, Sook-hee gets beaten, brutalized, and constantly betrayed throughout her life as she struggles to avenge those she has lost and bury the demons of her past in order to live a peaceful life and raise her young daughter. I think I sympathized with Sook-hee more than I have with any other action hero. Kim ably plays a character that can go from reserved calm to beast mode to icy determination in an instant. Sook-hee is a refreshing protagonist because she’s written as a full person. Yes, she’s a no-doubt, through and through badass, but she’s also a loving and nurturing person, despite the tragedies that shaped her life.
The action in The Villainess is generally top-tier, stylish (in a good way), and massively (but mostly realistically) bloody. Although nothing reaches the visceral impact of the initial fight scene, the final fight makes a valiant effort to come close and is thoroughly entertaining it it’s own right. The car driving sequence in the final scene is nuts. Words won’t do it justice. You need to see it for yourself. Although Kim steals the show, the other performances in the movie are pretty strong. The cinematography is frequently excellent and the subtitles are high quality.
Despite being an excellent film, the plot and the pacing are two areas where The Villainess doesn’t necessarily excel. To be fair, nearly every variation of a revenge plot has been done and this one wasn’t especially weak for the genre. It just wasn’t particularly special. The pacing is a bigger issue. The middle third of the movie has noticeably less action than the first and final thirds. I didn’t mind this terribly, as I saw the time as well-spent on character development, but viewers who watch The Villainess expecting non-stop action may be disappointed.
Overall, I wouldn’t put The Villainess on the same level as either of the John Wick movies, but being only a rung or two below those is still quite an accomplishment. It’s a violent and intense, but fun movie with a protagonist that viewers can easily sympathize with. I highly recommend it and it’s a definite must-see for lovers of action movies.