By R. Emmet Sweeney in the September-October 2017 Issue
Bathed in CGI blood splatter and glycerin tears, The Villainess revels in its artificiality. A Korean revenge film in the Oldboy lineage, with an operatically convoluted flashback structure and a tip-of-the-cap hallway slaughter sequence, it enervates and energizes in equal measure.
The vengeance seeker is Sook-hee (Kim Ok-vin, from Park Chan-wook’s Thirst), on a lifelong quest to eviscerate her father’s killer. Her bloody journey leads her into an assassin training school (with shades of La Femme Nikita), that aside from the forced plastic surgery and brainwashing, thoughtfully allows for well-funded dance and theater programs. Sook-hee graduates to become a hired gun, and in order to keep tabs on her, the organization enlists one of their agents to romance and eventually wed her. But of course this tousle-haired gent actually falls in love, whereupon the film briefly turns into a sickly sweet rom-com, with aw-shucks flirtations breaking up the geysers of arterial spray.
This first of many wild tonal shifts embodies the GoPro-for-broke spirit of the whole enterprise, as director Jung Byung-gil attaches cameras to every conceivable body part to capture his increasingly insane action sequences. It opens with a first-person shooter POV of Sook-hee gunning down a gang, continues through a motorcycle swordfight with the camera swinging like a manic mosquito, and ends in glory with a car chase in which Sook-hee takes down a bus with nothing but an ax and a dream.