After watching the action-packed, revenge-genre Netflix series “My Name,” I decided to give “The Villainess” (dir. Jeong Byeong Gil) a shot, mostly because I had heard that those who liked “My Name” would like this film. As this movie had come out about four years ago, I was already somewhat familiar with the plot but even despite this knowledge and the added reference to “My Name,” I enjoyed “The Villainess” to my heart’s content. This movie has everything that an action-thriller could ask for: an unhinged female protagonist, a scarily soft-spoken antagonist, wildly compelling fight scenes and an overall solid, satisfying storyline.
We follow the trajectory of the young assassin Sook Hee (Kim Ok Bin)’s second chance at life. Now working under the guidance of Kwan Sook (Kim Seo Hyung), Sook Hee lives almost normally—a single mother of her daughter Eun Hye (Kim Yeon Woo), a stage actress—only to assassinate those her boss tells her to. There are no questions asked, no suspicions raised from Sook Hee’s end, mostly because this is something that’s too familiar to her. In a series of flashbacks, the movie reveals early on that before working for Kwan Sook, Sook Hee had a similar role as a younger woman. Only back then, she’d been with Lee Joon Sang (Shin Ha Kyun), a dangerous gang leader who, after promising to help her get revenge on who killed her father, raised, married and eventually impregnated her.
If that last sentence hasn’t just made you at least wince in some partial disgust or sympathy for Sook Hee, just you wait. This movie paints a very compelling picture of who Sook Hee is as a person and not just as an assassin. Somehow, in the span of two hours, this action film portrays an excellently well-rounded, sympathetic protagonist who, despite being a stone-cold killer, is also someone who’s capable of extreme softness. For a few portions of the movie, one can almost forget that Sook Hee knows a million different ways to kill a man—because in the moments she is happy, she’s actually a human. It’s telling that all her moments of true happiness are those when she’s not forced into the role of assassin, like when she’s with her daughter or when she’s with her eventual new husband Hyun Soo (Sung Joon). The same woman who can demolish a gang of twenty men can also give the brightest smile to her daughter as she drops her off to school and as the movie progresses, the audience just can’t help but wish Sook Hee lives a life she wants, not the life that’s been assigned to her all this time. But, perhaps that was the point of the film. Even when Sook Hee lives a somewhat better life, it’s all a lie. She might take some refuge in the joy she has in her family, but in the way all of these movies go, those things can only last so long before she’s forced back into reality. It’s a sad concept but one that’s executed with enough blood and delicious revenge that makes the whole matter feel weirdly worth it.
Of course, this review wouldn’t be complete without discussing the action scenes, which were an absolute delight to watch. From the first-person perspective bloodbath that happens in the first five minutes of the movie to the intense sword fights between Sook Hee and her first assignment to the epic showdown between Sook Hee and Joon Sang, there is literally not a single boring action fight in this entire movie. Sook Hee is an absolutely relentless fighter, walking the thin line between absolute grace and absolute destruction in each one of her scenes. That, combined with the incredibly intriguing camera shots, gives all the action scenes a wicked sense of vertigo that feels right for the genre. The blood spurts on the camera aren’t plentiful, but when they’re there, they’re fun. It also helps that the action scenes are very fast, so if you’re someone who gets squeamish around anything too gory, you don’t need to worry about any particularly gruesome shots lasting too long on the dead bodies. Just enjoy the knife swinging and shouting.
Overall, “The Villainess” was a weekend watch that I did not regret a single bit. If you want to delve into this specific genre, then mark this movie down as an automatic classic because it’ll be sure to leave you hungering for more of that sweet, sweet revenge.