The Villainess (Ak-Nyeo) (2017)



Hardly pausing to draw breath, this South Korean thriller by director  Byung-gil Jung launches you into blood soaked action from the first unforgettable scene.

Shot from the protagonist’s point of view, like a first person shooter video game, we see bodies falling left and right as a person fights their way into a building. That the scene lasts a good five minutes and appears like a single take adds an exhausting relentlessness to the onslaught. It is only through a reflection in a room that we see the person is a diminutive woman, Sook-hee (Ok-bin Kim). As she crashes out of a window, the camera pirouettes a graceful arc until we are facing her, now from the point of view of a phalanx of police with guns drawn.

Shown in disconcertingly fragmented flashbacks, we slowly build an understanding of Sook-hee’s story, interspersed with the repercussions of the bloodbath. Arrested, she is sure she will be executed but, as in Luc Besson’s Nikita (1990), she’s given a second chance by an unidentified agency who train her to be an assassin. Unlike Nikita, Sook-hee doesn’t quail nor whimper as she takes on her new role. Driven by a steel core of fury, she sees this as a chance for revenge against those who have wronged her.

I was glued to every subtitled word as the juxtaposition of past and present made the story somewhat hard to follow; the length of Sook-hee’s hair being the best indicator of time. I found it hard to differentiate the different men in her past and some scenes are deliberately dreamlike as we get a glimpse into Sook-hee’s fragile mental state. There are twists and turns, some expected, others not.

The characters don’t have a lot of depth but Ok-bin Kim holds the screen and Sook-hee’s relationship with second husband Hyun-soo (Jun Sung) provides a believable emotional depth to the story. Daughter Eun-Hye (Yun-Woo Kim) provides a single note of cuteness amidst the pain and terror. The action scenes are splendid with a frenetic force and ferocity you don’t see in Hollywood. The final scene with the bus is a cracker, a fitting bookend to the high voltage opening.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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