The Villainess (2017)

aka Ak-Nyeo

2018 #35
Jung Byung-gil | 124 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | South Korea / Korean | 18

The Villainess

After taking bloody revenge on the people who killed her father, skilled combatant Sook-hee (Kim Ok-vin) is arrested and then forcibly recruited into a secret government agency who want her murderous skills. In exchange for ten years of her life and abilities, she’ll get a new identity and her freedom. As Sook-hee adapts to her new situation, flashbacks fill us in on her past — and the role it still has to play in her future.

There are obvious similarities to Luc Besson’s Nikita in that setup, but, frankly, I haven’t seen that movie in a long time, so I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere for a more in-depth comparison than “hey, this is a bit like that!” The Villainess isn’t selling itself on the freshness of its premise, anyway — to most potential viewers, the primary attraction is the freshness of its action sequences. On that, it delivers, and then some.

It starts as it means to go on, opening with an eight-minute tightly-choreographed (fake-)single-take mostly-first-person killing spree. It’s a giddy display of violence that’s sure to entertain those of us who are so inclined. Many more hyper-kinetic, just-as-awesome action sequences follow over the next couple of hours. A motorbike chase that is also a sword fight (!) was a particularly memorable one for me (as I mentioned in last month’s Arbies). That’s also done in a ‘single take’ — if there’s one thing director Jung Byung-gil loves, it’s a fake single-take action sequence. If there’s another, it’s spurting blood — apparently if you strike anyone anywhere you’ll hit an artery and the red stuff will be squirting all over the place.

A sword fight... on bikes!

While the action scenes will be the focus for many viewers, there’s also a surprisingly effective emotional story at the film’s core. It even stops being an action movie for a bit in the middle to become a kind of romantic drama, which sounds ridiculous, but it works. There are plenty of twists and revelations involved in the storyline, so no spoilers here, but I will say it’s ultimately a pretty bleak film — it goes places I don’t think many straight-up action movies would dare. Well, certainly not Hollywood ones, anyway.

And none of that is to say it betrays its action roots — this isn’t one of those films that’s trailed like an action movie but, actually, only has a couple of stunts and is mostly something else. No, this really, really pays off just as a two-hour adrenaline kick; but it’s also, simultaneously, something more complicated. Put both sides together and I think there’s a good chance this will, deservedly, become regarded as a genre classic.

4 out of 5

The Villainess is available on Netflix UK from today.

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The Snowbound Monthly Update for February 2018

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but films are so delightful; and since we’ve no place to go, let’s look back at the last month on 100 Films


#16 Accomplice (1946)
#17 Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)
#18 The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
#19 Casino (1995)
#20 Hitchcock (2012)
#21 Fast & Furious 8 (2017), aka The Fate of the Furious
#22 WarGames (1983)
#23 Black Panther (2018)
#24 Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (1964), aka Zatôichi senryô-kubi
#25 The Dark Tower (2017)
#26 The Duellists (1977)
#27 Persepolis (2007)
#28 Being John Malkovich (1999)
#29 One for the Fire: The Legacy of “Night of the Living Dead” (2008)
#30 Birth of the Living Dead (2013)
#31 Mute (2018)
#32 Big Fish (2003)
#33 My Cousin Rachel (2017)
#34 Mindhorn (2016)
#35 The Villainess (2017), aka Ak-Nyeo
#36 I Origins (2014)
Black Panther

Big Fish

The Villainess

.


  • With 21 new films watched this month, February is all set to beat a few stats.
  • So, it passes all averages: for the month of February (previously 11.5, now 12.4); for 2018 to date (previously 15, now 18); and the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 14.5, now 15.1).
  • It’s also the second highest February (behind 2016’s 24) and the second furthest I’ve reached by the end of February (behind 2016 again, when I’d made it to #44).
  • In 11-and-a-bit years of doing this blog, it’s only the 10th month with 20+ films. That puts it in the top 7.5% of all months.
  • Despite February being the shortest month, 21 is the most films I’ve watched in a single month since last October. If you include rewatches (more on those further down, as usual), it’s the most since… the same. But to find another month where I watched more overall, you’d have to go back to another October: October 2015, aka my highest month ever.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: one of the few gaps in my Tim Burton viewing, probably his most restrained (and, by no coincidence, one of his best) film in the last 20+ years, Big Fish.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: one of the many gaps in my Martin Scorsese viewing, though sadly I found Casino to be rather overrated.



The 33rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
This month wasn’t a bad one for quality viewing — far from it — and yet options for this category quickly narrowed to just a couple of prime contenders. Of those, I had little doubt about my favourite: ticking all sorts of boxes with its African James Bond superhero routine, it had to be Black Panther.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
There were a few less-good films this month, two of them courtesy of Netflix’s Originals line. Of that pair, undoubtedly the worst (to my mind) was The Cloverfield Paradox. Its surprise release may’ve been hailed as genius, but when you actually see the film you realise that innovation was almost all it had going for it. If Netflix ever try to pull the same stunt again… well, it’s not going to bode well for that film’s quality.

Best Action Sequence on Wheels of the Month
Black Panther has a cool semi-virtual car chase, and obviously Fast & Furious 8 bases almost all of its action around motor vehicles, but neither can come close to The Villainesssword fight on speeding motorbikes. And later it trots out a bus-based finale, just to make sure no one else would stand a chance in this category.

Flower of the Month
It may not be the weather for them, but after Big Fish it has to be daffodils.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It’s the film everyone’s been talking about this month — and going to see in droves, too — so it’s no surprise to find Black Panther in pole position here.



In a real turn-up for the books, my Rewatchathon is currently well ahead of schedule…

#5 Blade Runner 2049 3D (2017)
#6 Beetlejuice (1988)
#7 The Mask (1994)
#8 The Love Punch (2013)
#9 Mission: Impossible (1996)
#10 Shrek (2001)

Regular readers with exceptional memories may recall I only last watched The Love Punch in January. Frankly, it’s not a film I necessarily thought I’d ever revisit, let alone so soon, but sometimes you need something inoffensive that will placate a group of family members with varied tastes. And, to be completely honest, although it’s an utterly daft movie, I do quite like it.

Beetlejuice turns 30 next month, so I’ll post more about it then. Mission: Impossible and Shrek will also be getting the “Guide To” treatment, to fill out my archive with posts about the entirety of each series — three of the five Mission films are already here; and while there are no Shreks yet, three of those five will be first-time watches when I get to them. This is also the beginning of a rewatch of all the M:I films before this summer’s sixth arrives. It’s the first time I’ve watched the first two in at least a decade — time bloody flies, don’t it?


It’s time for the annual update of my director’s page header image, which features the 20 directors with the most films I’ve reviewed. (The excitement never stops around here, folks!)

There were no humungous changes like the surge of Spielberg last year. Nonetheless, Michael Bay and Ron Howard have moved into positions where they definitely get to appear on the banner; but there’s a ten-way tie for 18th place, from which only three directors can be selected. Already included in the header were John Carpenter, Alfred Hitchcock, Ernst Lubitsch, Tony Scott, and Billy Wilder — at least two had to go to make way for Bay and Howard. Also under consideration for the remaining three slots were Danny Boyle, Kenneth Branagh, David Lynch, M. Night Shyamalan, and Quentin Tarantino.

In the end, I decided to go for a near-maximum refresh: off come Carpenter, Lubitsch, Tony Scott, and Wilder (Hitchcock stays because, c’mon, it’s Hitchcock), and on go not only Bay and Howard, but also Lynch and Tarantino.


British Summer Time begins. No, seriously: right now it couldn’t be more wintery, but in just 25 days the clocks change. Madness.