Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Korean action par excellence in Jung Byung-gil's eye-popping, mind-blowing VILLAINESS

TrustMovies suspects that you might have to go back as far as Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita to find an apt comparison to the new South Korean action flick THE VILLAINESS. What an opening sequence this movie has! This is eight minutes or more of pre-title action and mayhem so violent, funny and enthralling that it barely gives you time to catch your breath. And then the movie gets even better: richer, stranger, funnier and more exciting.

As directed and co-written by Jung Byung-gil (shown below), the film offers up a heroine named Sook-hee who is so daunting in her fury and commitment to revenge and justice that she'll have you rooting for her in no time flat.

As with so many of these action/mayhem movies, especially the Korean variety, the themes includes love, trust, betrayal, and parent-child relations, among other things. And, being Korean, yes, the movie is very dark. This one, in fact, may be among the darkest I've seen. (Don't let that smile on the director's face fool you. He has surprises and disappointments in store here that you would never find in an American action movie.) As for the action itself, it's A-1 and often pretty damned original, too. In the first half, we get a samurai sword-fight while on motorcycles, and the finale finds our heroine chasing a bus while driving atop the hood of her car and then proceeds into full-out, gasp-inducing chaos.

Behind it all is the Korean state/government, and while this movie may take place in South Korea, we still get a good strong whiff of a police state. Why not, given this little country's long and fraught history?

Sook-hee, played quite well by Kim Ok-bin (above, of The Front Line and Thirst) makes a strong and genuinely laudable heroine, and by the time we and she have reached the final frame of the film, the smile that appears on her bloody-but-unbowed face makes the movie's title radiate with appropriate anger, irony and sadness.

The men around Sook-hee are hardly her match, though they do try -- especially the sweet, smitten State-employed handler (Sung Jun) who falls in love with her, as well as the blast-from-the-past who suddenly reappears in her life, as a surprise "target" on her second wedding day (the latter is played by the notable Shin Ha-kyun, above).

Three of the women with whom our heroine works in the "agency" also register strongly: the sweet new recruit who becomes Sook-hee's friend, the older agency diva who is soon her nemesis, and especially the ice-queen agency head (Kim Seo-hyeong, above) for whom trust is a dirty word.

At 124 minutes, the movie does ran a tad too long (though this is relatively short for a Korean film, where audiences demand their money's worth, in quantity as well as quality). The filmmaker also packs his tale with flash-backs that fill in some of the blanks in our understanding of Sook-hee's life.

Even if you're not a fan of this kind of film, The Villainess may well win you over (or at least wear you down into "uncle"-crying submission). If you are a fan, better stick it on your "must-see" list now.

From WELL GO USA Entertainment, the movie opens this Friday, August 25, in New York City at the IFC Center, and in Los Angeles at AMC's Dine-In Sunset 5. A limited national release will follow in September. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled cities and theaters.

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