OzAsia Film Review: Villainess (South Korea, 2017) brings video game violence to the big screen

Villainess doesn’t waste any time, giving the audience exactly what they came for; a full on, bloody action movie. And boy does it deliver exactly what it promises. The whole premise – a story about an assassin out for revenge – comes with big expectations of huge action sequences and lots of knives, and with a 10 minute opening scene dedicated to our assassin, Sook-hee (played by Ok-bin Kim), violently cutting through a building full of men while she’s on a warpath to find the person she holds responsible for the death of her father, there isn’t any doubt Villainess plans to deliver on every bit of violence that earned it an R18+ rating.

Once Sook-hee has finished turning that building into a human slaughterhouse, she’s immediately arrested and handed over to “The Agency” – a government secret service tasked with taking out threats to those in power. They blackmail Sook-hee into joining their ranks, forcing her to have identity-altering plastic surgery, while training her to be more than just a killing machine – honing in on a range of skills from acting to cooking.

After a few years she graduates from secret agent bootcamp and is let out into the world, awaiting her next assignment. It doesn’t take long for her past to catch up with her, leaving Sook-hee no choice but to pick up her warpath where she left it.

Villainess throws in a lot of flashbacks to Sook-hee’s old life, from her father being murdered right in front of her to the torturous training she went through to become an assassin, parallel to  the events she’s dealing with in her new life as a South Korean government agent. Villainess makes a point to ensure there is never any doubt over why Sook-hee does what she does (although that can’t be said for the people controlling her).

The action scenes are very violent, and it’s easy to see that director Byung-gil Jung is a fan of blood squirting out of various parts of the body. Unfortunately the camerawork used during the fights becomes very disorientating very quickly. The camera either takes on a first-person perspective as Sook-hee slices and dices through everyone in her way, giving the film a Doom-esque first-person-shooter vibe; or a third-person perspective as if the camera was a non-violent specator, frantically watching the people around it being used as human pincushions.

The fights were violent, well choreographed, and could never be accused of being boring, but the longer they went on the harder they became to watch. At times it seemed like there was a slim chance that the audience might be treated to a more modest fight scene, but before too long those hopes were thrown out the window and the audience was back to being thrown around as if they’re on one of those 9D Cinema carnival rides.

Villainess is a solid action movie – it balances plot-driven scenes with full on action sequences, and despite my issues with how the fight scenes were filmed I came away feeling entertained (albeit a little sea-sick).

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Villainess will be playing at the Mercury Cinema from September 23rd as part of Adelaide’s OzAsia Festival. For more details head HERE.