Byung-gil Jung's The Villainess is a visceral experience, an action film full of ingenious designs that places its primary emphasis on delivering an experience that is felt as much as it is seen, with narrative being secondary to the film's lust for delivering heart-stopping mayhem. The first scene of The Villainess perfectly sets the mood for what the viewer is in for, an opening sequence that is a chaotic and ultra-violent, with the filmmakers routinely oscillating their camera back-and-forth between first-person point-of-view and more traditional third person point-of-view, detailing the skilled, brutal work of Sook-hee, a trained assassin, who eviscerates a group of armed men with ease, like a hot knife through butter. This opening sequence, presented as a seamless long-take of mayhem, provides little exposition or explanation for who or what is exactly going on, but through this high-octane, chaotic scene the film lets the viewer know what they are in for with The Villainess, a highly stylized, expertly choreographed action film with a bad-ass femme fatale in the center of it all. While the action throughout The Villainess is clearly a highlight, with the filmmakers delivering a bombastic look-and-feel that combines more traditional photography with a first-person perspective that is engrossing and singular, The Villainess' convoluted narrative leaves a lot to be desired, featuring a messy story about a trained assassin with a mysterious past. Drawing heavily from La Femme Nikita, The Villainess desperately tries to evoke a sense of mystery and intrigue about the past of its main protagonist, a trained assassin working for some form of top secret government organization, routinely oscillating back and forth between past and present as the film crafts Sook-hee's characterization. While the film does reach coherency by the end, it feels too little too late, as the journey itself never pays off, given its unnecessarily convoluted nature. The Villainess' narrative is intentionally vague about the lines between good and evil throughout its running time, keeping the viewer in the dark, much like the main protagonist, unsure about who can be trusted. While this tactic works for awhile, the narrative never provides any truly interesting revelations, being unnecessarily convoluted in its execution, which in turn left me rather uninterested in the story by-the-end, let to focus much of my attention on when the next bit of carnage will take place. Thematically the film works, with The Villainess at its core is a story about female empowerment, detailing a character in Sook-hee whom has been taken advantage and deceived by multiple individuals. She is a weapon whom is effectively used by individuals around her to get what they want, and through her convoluted path of revenge, The Villainess is a story of empowerment, as Sook-hee takes control of her life and extinguishes all the forces around her who wish to control who she is and who she isn't as a person. Featuring some of the most visceral action one is sure to experience this year, Byung-gil Jung's The Villainess is more than satisfying as purely an action experience, but for those looking for more from a narrative perspective, look elsewhere.
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