Ingenuity and style can keep any film from feeling overly stylized and repetitive. When an action film is being hailed as a combination of Le Femme Nikita, Kill Bill, and John Wick, it certainly sets expectations high. Consider me blindsided as The Villainess lives up to the hype — and then some. Premiering out of competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, director/co-writer Jung Byong-gil — along with co-writer Jung Byeong-sik — carve themselves a place alongside some of the action greats. Armed with Kim Ok-bin, the best female action lead since Uma Thurman’s “The Bride,” The Villainess is hands down the one action film you need to see.
Sook-hee (Ok-bin) is a female assassin trained from an early age to be one of the world’s most ruthless killers. After being captured while on the hunt for her father’s killer, she’s thrust into a new underground of elite super assassins. Little does she know that she’s also pregnant. The chief makes her a deal that after 10 years of service they’ll grant her freedom. What she also doesn’t know is that her new neighbor happens to work for the same agency and secrets from her past are about to collide with the present in a bloody tale of revenge that will make your jaw drop.
Well Go USA slices The Villainess onto Blu-ray on a 25GB disc in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The first scene had me a bit worried. Obviously captured on less that HD cameras — probably GoPros — this was not a good looking transfer. It was pixelated and noisy. Thankfully, once the director gets beyond the opening POV fight scene, the picture improves. Blacks are inky with plenty of shadow detail. Despite a lot of black suits being worn, they never meld into one solid piece. Noise is sprinkled in here and there, but gives it a filmic look rather than calling attention to itself. The only thing knocking a few points off are the typical banding issues that come with every Well Go USA disc.
Colors are where the film is a knockout. Bold and bright, never bleeding or blooming. I wish the film had been released in 4K. It would have helped elevate the transfer to a stunning full five stars. Four and a half will have to do. Detail is also generally razor sharp. The included Korean 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is every bit as good, too. An Atmos track could have once again helped kick things up a notch, but this is a doozy of a soundfield. Directionality and surrounds are put to good use throughout nearly the entire film with lots of bass to help keep the action thumping along. Additional soundtracks include Korean or English 2.0 Stereo and an English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Subtitles are only available in English.
It’s a shame the special features are so scant because the action sequences are so breathtaking it leaves you dying to know how they did it. A particular high speed motorcycle chase is mind boggling. What we do get is just enough to whet our appetite and leave us wanting more. A “Making Of” is divided into two sections: “The Action Choreography” (2:36), where we get to see how involved Ok-bin was during shooting and solidifies just how big of a badass she truly is and “The Characters” (1:42) which covers subplots and connections. The film’s teaser (0:55) and trailer (2:02) are also included.
The Bottom Line
When a director has to create technology to pull off his vision — Jung needed cameras small enough to get in on the action — it shows the making of a true auteur and Jung proves himself exactly that. It should come as no surprise to find the director to be the same age as I am — he was born just the day before me — as he’s made exactly the kind of action film I want to see. Brimming with originality and spectacularly choreographed action scenes, this is one of the best all out action films since both Raid films. With it’s own femme fatale that gives anyone a run for their money, paired with exceptional video/audio, The Villainess is a can’t miss action extravaganza.