Wednesday, September 05, 2018

"The Villainess": review

"The Villainess" is the English title for the 2017 movie "악녀" (Ak-nyeo, pronounced like "ahng-nyaw") or, in Chinese, "惡女," which literally means "evil woman," but it might be better to go with the Naver Dictionary translation of "Femme Fatale," although that's not completely right, either, since the main character isn't evil or seductive so much as dangerous in a Jack Bauer way. Essentially a revenge drama about a woman out to find the people who killed her father, "The Villainess" is directed by Jung Byung-gil and stars Kim Ok-bin.

Like many Asian crime-drama films, the plot of "Villainess" takes many confusing twists and turns, and the movie's fight choreography is amped up by some ambitiously in-your-face camera work, some of which shows the fights from a first-person-shooter perspective, and some of which involves having the camera crawl over, under, and around writhing bodies as the fights are in progress—a bit like wearing a GoPro during a coke-fueled game of Twister. Normally, I'd give full props for this sort of cinematography, but the problem is that I've seen it all before in "Hardcore Henry," a movie that actually takes the first-person perspective to the limit by using that technique for the entire film.

In fact, the main problem with "Villainess" is that it's utterly derivative of other, better action movies. It cribs a "Who can assemble a pistol faster?" scene from the 1990s-era Korean action film "Shiri," from which it also steals a plastic-surgery trope; there's a sniper-in-the-bathroom scene that's straight out of Luc Besson's "Nikita"; there are numerous callbacks to the "Kill Bill" movies, including a flashback scene in which a young girl hides under a bed and witnesses her father's death. Scenes of massively murderous mayhem are stylistic reminders of the far superior "John Wick" movies.

It doesn't help matters that the plot is so convoluted that it's nearly impossible to understand anyone's motivations for what they're doing. Our protagonist is originally out for revenge against the people who killed her father, but later on, she loses her husband and daughter, too. What's the message, here? Is it Hattori Hanzo's warning, from "Kill Bill Volume 1," that revenge is a forest in which one can become lost? The final moment of "Villainess" seems to suggest this as a possibility, given that the poor woman has lost everything and finally gone over to the dark side. But that's merely a guess. Meanwhile, who exactly is the main villain? An ex-intelligence officer gone rogue? Even by the end, this remained a mystery to me.

The movie's editing needs work, too: there are some fight scenes that are beautifully and clearly choreographed and shot; other scenes are muddled and confusing, leaving the viewer wondering who shoots whom, and who gets out alive. Editing plays a role in pacing, too: there are moments when the movie drags on and on, with not much of anything happening. And of course, the story contains the standardly annoying Korean tropes of female screaming and tears. Even the stoic lady who seems to head the Korean intelligence agency—my last, best hope for emotional stability—has a moment where she gets misty-eyed. For Christ's sake.

All in all, I don't recommend "The Villainess." It's confusing, derivative, and embarrassingly hokey. You're better off seeing the dozen or so movies that this one cribbed from.

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