Directed by Jung Byung-gil
Official Selection, 2017 Cannes Film Festival
Closing Night Film, 2017 New York Asian Film Festival
The bravura first-person slaughter that opens Jung Byung-gil’s THE VILLAINESS instills an aesthetic connection between rage and violence. Vengeful Sook-hee (Kim Ok-vin) explodes through an army of gangland thugs inside a dank warehouse and the frenzied carnage unspools, with warring characters moving in lock step to a chaotic rhythm and outcome. These dance moves just involve long knives instead of tap shoes. It won’t be the last time the film presents single-player sensory overdrive to maximize style and emotional impact.
Post-bloodbath, Sook-hee is forcefully recruited by a covert government agency that specializes in training women to become sleeper cell assassins. During this process, Sook-hee’s traumatic back-story unfolds, presenting a dual timeline linking both past and present betrayals, creating a melancholic mosaic that evokes the lost innocence of a woman who has been abused and manipulated by men and the institutions they control. The narrative fragments collide as the wild motorcycle sword fighters do, and Jung’s enthralling knife twists swerve into the action-lover’s heart the way the pinball games of death inside a careening bus pierce and bruise the imagination. –Glenn Heath, Jr.