The Villainess opens with a first-person perspective, video game-esque, extended fight scene. ‘Fight’ may be a bit liberal of a term because there is no stopping Sook-hee, Ok-bin Kim, a highly trained and revenge filled killing machine. The pop-out from the first-person perspective is a wonderful little bit of cinema. The camera work during the fight scene and other parts of the film may cause little nausea as the camera spins wildly on screen.
Outside of fight scenes, the movie is highly stylized, and the camera work is very deliberate. It may not meet everyone’s taste, but it is well executed. Byung-gil Jung is a director to watch in the action genre. The movie takes place in Korea, but it could be any modern city; the restaurant scenes feel western. The fighting is martial arts-based and gun-play is well balanced with swords and knives. I was riding high through the first third of the movie.
The middle third of the movie is where I think the film falls short. Like Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a love story takes over hard-hitting and fast-paced action. Joong-sang, played by Ha-kyun Shin, has taken an interest in Sook-hee and tries to woo her. His feelings for her felt real and were established as he watched her on closed-circuit television. This love story is believable, but it did not sit well with me inside the world of assassins.
I was also very confused during the movie. Plastic surgery and fake deaths cause many spiderwebs to form that get balled up into a messy ball. The movie moves forward and backward in the timeline willy-nilly and does not leave the viewer much time to comprehend what they have seen. One of the threads on the web causes a love triangle that I did not like.
The movie closes like it begins with a wonderfully choreographed extended fight scene. It was a somewhat satisfying ending, but it did not bring me back in enough to make up for the slow middle third. This movie is a fantastic first effort and I am interested to see Byung-gil Jung’s next film. If he can tighten up the plot and make it easier to follow, he is going to have a hit on his hand.