The Villainess (Ak-Nyeo) is the story of a woman called Sook-hee who hunts down those who murdered her husband, pushing boundaries with a delirious narrative and visceral stunts along the way. In actress Shin Ha-Kyun, we have a new avenging angel who ranks up there with the very best of cinema's vengeful ladies.
Channeling La Femme Nikita and a whole host of female-driven revenge flicks, the latest offering from South #Korean director Jeong Byeong-gil propels exploitation cinema to dizzying new heights. At the end of the day though, what academics will be talking about long after The Villainess has jump-kicked its way off our screens is the sheer innovation and savage beauty captured in the film's delirious opening scene.
A Whirlwind Of Brutal Violence
Knowing that bad guys have all the fun, The Villainess opens with a POV perspective that throws us directly into a brutal slaughter, one that the audience itself becomes immediately complicit in. Looking down at our blood-soaked hands, we continue to strive forward alongside our titular assassin as she shoots and slices her way through entire swarms of hapless gangsters.
In between ragged bursts of breath, audiences watch — or rather "experience" — Sook-hee's mission firsthand, piggy-backing off her almost inhuman levels of adrenaline as she decimates entire rooms of henchmen. Comparisons to The Raid are certainly warranted to a degree and it's no surprise that the corridor section reminds viewers of Oldboy too, but former stuntman Jung Byung-gil has arguably surpassed both films here, setting a new precedent for action on screen.
Watching this seven-minute-long take is akin to playing a video game on acid, whipping back and forth as our protagonist's gaze moves between each of her victims in rapid succession. Just like each henchman in the moment before their death, we too have no idea why they're about to meet their demise, but there's something empowering in the way we embody the Angel of Death herself all the same.
Just when we're led to believe that Sook-hee has finally triumphed, The Villainess opens one final door, only to discover that her escape has been cut off by an entire gym full of leering men who are out for blood. Surrounded by mirrors, the camera suddenly pans out and finally reveals our heroine's face, one that's etched with unbridled fury. No other action film has opened with such ferocity and even when the opening chaos has finally subsided, The Villainess continues to innovate through some bold genre-bending among the film's many exhilarating action sequences.
Without any backstory or even our hero's face to identify with, director Jung Byung-gil took a huge gamble here, kicking off his action epic with a seven-minute bloodbath that's all shot in one take. Yes, this may not be the first time that such a technique has been utilized on film, but unlike Hardcore Henry, use of a first person perspective doesn't outstay its welcome here. The Villainess understands exactly what its audience needs and the film is all the better for it.
By the time that The Villainess is bathed in police headlights after just seven minutes of utter carnage, a new action icon has already been born. Forget Kill Bill. Move over, Lady Vengeance. #TheVillainess has just become the woman to beat.
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