+++ Opinion +++
In the night from today to tomorrow you can experience an action worth seeing on television. More precisely: An FSK-18 actioner that shows what happens when you take a story based on the “Nikita” scheme and implement it with extremely bloody, highly dynamic melee action. Action that even inspired the director of the “John Wick’ movies to say, ‘Wow, I want to do that too!’
We’re talking about the South Korean thriller “The Villainess”, which shows a tough, unscrupulous sleeper becoming an unstoppable avenging angel. Tele 5 shows “The Villainess” on the night of August 24, 2022 from 1.30 a.m and uncut as a television premiere. If that’s too late for you: The film can also be found in streaming, including on Amazon Prime.
» “The Villainess” on Amazon Prime Video*
Incidentally, the visually impressive FSK 18 revenge ride was staged by Jeong Byeong-gil, who recently delivered the dizzying Netflix hit “Carter”.
Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin) is an elite fighter and is smuggled into the South Korean capital Seoul by the Chinese secret service under a new identity. There she is supposed to lead a supposedly normal life under the name Chae Yeon-soo – but in reality she is a sleeper and is waiting for her next assignment. One day, when Sook-hee finds out more about her own past with crime boss Lee Joong-sang (Shin Ha-kyun) and suffers a devastating setback, she sees red and becomes an unstoppable avenger with motives of her own…
Jeong Byeong-gil places one of the highlights in “The Villainess” right at the beginning: there is no context whatsoever in terms of content, the filmmaker throws his audience right into the middle an almost ten minute long fight sequence. What begins in filthy hallways and makes its way to a gym, among other things, is a rapid firework of punches, kicks, shots and carnage. Rapidly choreographed, extremely brutal – and totally disorienting: The camera initially adopts the first-person perspective of our protagonist, and therefore whirls restlessly around.
This takes a lot of getting used to, not least because of the fisheye effect of the camera used. But it’s also extremely stylish, full of energy and unlike the fast-paced shaky camera look that has become commonplace in Western action cinema. The camera is super quick and puts us right in the middle of Sook-hee’s adrenaline rushbut the movements are smooth instead of jerky, which means a whole different flair.
In the course of the butchery marathon that opens The Villainess, a simple, small, ingenious move ensures that we leave the first-person perspective and slide into an observation position. Although: “Observing” is not enough, as the camera still scurries through the stuntmen and ducks before punches, kicks and drawn weapons. A bang from a prologue that “The Villainess” follows up with several similarly strong sequences!
The basic structure of “The Villainess” evokes memories of “Nikita” and the almost endless cast of films that are based on the classic in the “woman becomes a tough undercover agent” sector. And, so much criticism must be: “The Villainess” neither adds new narrative to this action subgenre, nor does it belong to the genre entries with particularly memorable character drawings.
However, there is an understandable reason why Kim Ok-bin cannot shine as well apart from the action passages as in the fight sequences and chases: Of the 70 “The Villainess” shooting days, 63 were spent on action, which can be clearly seen in the grandiosely elaborated scenes. And even if there is occasionally a lack of drama between the action – in terms of staging, the film retains its energy with its disembodied camera ghosting through the events.
But she only acts really unleashed when Sook-hee once again slaughters hordes of meanies. Not only that fight choreographer Kwon Gui-duck creates a believable as well as spectacular fray that the heroine has to endure. On top of that, the chaos reinvents itself again and again – for example, when Sook-hee is attacked while riding a motorbike by guys who suddenly pull out swords on their two-wheelers. And that’s two years before Chad Stahelski’s action epic “John Wick 3” in which Keanu Reeves has to survive the same situation!
In “The Villainess” this escalates into dynamically fast tumult. Stahelski’s bow to the South Korean cracker takes over the idea, but modifies it sufficiently by imposing his theatrical signature – honor among colleagues dictates it. And while Stahelski’s level of violence remains relatively constant throughout the film and John Wick morally at odds with himself, “The Villainess” becomes a vicious bloodbath in its brutal finale. A vicious bloodbath that lives up to the film’s title.
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