The lone female assassin motif has produced some memorable cinematic performances. Whether it’s Uma Thurman in Kill Bill 1&2, Anne Parillaud as Nikita or Meiko Kaji in Lady Snowblood, there’s a powerful celluloid attraction to the pull of deadly sensuality. Indeed, this has been particularly the case in Asia, where Shu Qi in The Assassin, Zhang Ziyi in House of Flying Daggers or Aya Ueto as Azumi have all wowed audiences. However, it’s normally in period action/martial arts films. In Byung-gil Jung’s The Villainess, he sets events in the present day, to brilliant effect.
Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin) has been groomed since childhood to be an assassin by her father. After he’s killed, she dedicates her life to hunting down his killers and exacting revenge. In the process, she’s knocked unconscious, only to awake in the National Intelligence Agency facility. Despite being initially reluctant, Sook-hee agrees to become a sleeper agent as she wants to build a normal life with her young daughter. Things are going well and she even falls for her neighbour (Joon Sung), but then an assignment gives her the opportunity to avenge her father.
The opening section of The Villainess is breathtaking. In the same vein as Hardcore Henry, Jung uses the first person to draw you directly into the action. The choreography and pacing is absolutely brilliant. From then on, it reverts back to more standard action sequences, but these are never less than impressive. It does lose its way at times when the action stops, feeling overly convoluted and slightly unfocused. However, The Villainess is fantastic fun and a top-notch action film.
The Villainess is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Arrow Video on 30 October.