Now Streaming - The Villainess (2017) Reviewed

There are one of a kind, perfectly flawed gems hiding within every genre of art.  Over the years, these polarizing, unusual, or outright insane works inspire their fans and promote creative freedom.  Jung Byung-gil's hyper-kinetic bullet ballet The Villainess is one of the most graphically brutal, stunning action films of the decade.  Featuring imaginative combat sequences of rhythmic violence and a nesting egg plot that is best left forgotten, this is a film that leaves everything on the floor, along with the blood of its combatants.  

Sook-hee is conscripted by a clandestine organization and trained as a formidable assassin.  A series of revelations and betrayals forces her to confront her captors in a merciless battle for her freedom. From its jaw dropping introductory scene to its furious finale, The Villainess grabs the viewer by the throat and never relents.  It would be easy to pick apart the nonsensical elements of the rehashed plot, however, the story exists only to allow the key players to move onward to the next miraculous showcase of titanic mayhem.  This is a quality that is shared with many big budget action films.  The difference here, is in Byung-gil's artistic approach to the subject matter.  Scenes ripped from other films are presented in lavish, color soaked compositions, perfectly captured by Park Jung-hun's elusive cinematography.  What begins as a tight framed first person POV evolves into a high-speed sword fight before settling into an intimate showdown.  Every combative action brings with it both an incomparable amount of force and a blistering sense of awakening.  

Kim Ok-bin's central performance is astounding.  Not only is her physicality inspiring, her emotional understanding of her character acts as an anchor for the more fantastical (albeit predictable) aspects of the film.  She begins as a messenger of rage, fueled by vendetta before slowly growing into a calm and lethal assassin.   Many of the films with this kind of story revolve around emotional extremes; however Ok-bin manages to stay within bounds, harnessing the required mindset when dictated, but never going into the realm of parody. 

Hee Jin-kim's set direction is another exceptional attribute. One of the more gruesome sequences involves a hotel room massacre in which blades are wielded by half naked combatants.  The combination of golden decadence and crimson gore is palpable as spies and criminals face off for pieces of intelligence whose relevance never fully matters.  This is the essence of The Villainess.  Each heart stopping fight scene exists out of time, beyond the limits of a conventional plot, thrusting into an almost satirical homage to the grim realities of combat.  The participants exist only in the moment, desperate for victory at any cost, be it life or limb.  Everything is housed within a secret world of Jin-kim’s design, a place many viewers will be eager to return to upon the film’s unforgettable conclusion. 

Available now for digital rental, The Villainess is the greatest action film of 2017.  While it has an abundance of plot related flaws, its pristine visuals and unbelievable fight choreography propel it far above its remedial story.  If you're a fan of high octane bullet operas, The Villainess requires your immediate attention.  

-- Kyle Jonathan