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rochefort [Celluloid 10.25.17] Republic of Korea action thriller martial arts

A young girl goes on a murderous rampage and is apprehended, then awakens to find herself officially declared dead. Now a trainee in an underground, Deep State-style covert agency, she quickly becomes the top student in her class, excelling in the arts of seduction, combat and subterfuge. After a successful first mission, she is allowed to re-enter the world and attempt a somewhat normal life, albeit as a sleeper agent who will occasionally be required to kill certain persons of interest. As she slowly succumbs to the charms of her handsome neighbor, elements from her past resurface and it soon becomes evident that her two worlds are headed for a violent collision.

That’s the plot of La Femme Nikita, Luc Besson’s action thriller that put him on the map and continues to be a major influence on action films today. It is also the plot of The Villainess, director Byung-gil Jung’s everything-and-five-kitchen-sinks action pastiche.

There’s bad homage, like, well, most of them, and good homage, like Logan’s multiple references and parallels to Shane. And there are bad ripoffs like, well, frankly too many movies to list, and there are good ripoffs. The Villainess is a very, very good ripoff. In fact, it should be the gold standard for all future ripoffs. If they could be half as good as this, we’d all have a lot more guilty pleasures.

For all practical purposes an unofficial remake, it plays like Jung and his co-writer Byeong-sik Jung got really baked while playing their favorite hyperviolent videogame, began waxing nostalgic for their favorite action movies young and old, and then concluded that the best thing to do is redo their favorite, in this case Nikita, and finally ramp everything up to 11 by throwing in their favorite scenes from every other movie on the list.

The story of a girl named Sook-hee (Ok-bin Kim) plucked at a young age off the streets and forced into a shadowy army of assassins, the script steals scenes almost beat-for-beat from Nikita, as well as nearly verbatim chunks here and there from the likes of Kill Bill, The Matrix Reloaded, Hard Boiled, Oldboy and pretty much every hitman movie ever made.

At times the theft is so overt that the framing, staging and lighting scheme of key shots is lifted so directly that one wonders if a series of lawsuits might be imminent. And Jung and company don’t just pillage from the (slightly) older classics. Several major action scenes are designed to play like “unbroken” takes, and yeah there’s a lot of computer-assisted cleverness at work, but the opening and closing shots mimic the first-person perspective most recently popularized by the likes of Hardcore Henry, and are as frenetic and ultraviolent as you’d expect.

It’s all so very, superbly blatant, this loving ode that plays like mash-up fan fiction, that it forces me to admit something to myself, and I suspect I’m not alone among action fans: I was helpless to resist it. The action is done so well, and satisfies our collective bloodlust so generously, that I couldn’t help but applaud both its audacity and its genuine reverence for the films from which it cribs. And unlike Hardcore Henry, a recent attempt to revolutionize the way action movies are designed (which ended up proving that, even for die-hard action fans, sometimes too much is simply too much), The Villainess does actually fully commit to its story. The entire middle of the film slows down a little as the web of intrigue around Sook-hee intensifies, and the setups for the various confrontations and payoffs, while wholly predictable, are still fairly satisfying.

By the end of its two-hour running time, The Villainess actually feels kind of epic. Hollywood so often hypes its latest action-fest as “non-stop thrills” or a “rollercoaster ride”, but here’s a film that actually delivers on such a promise, with the added bonus sensation that, at any moment, the ride itself might explode with you on it.

Recommended Release: La Femme Nikita

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none (4 years ago) Reply

at 20 secs [she jumps through glass window] it looks like they have left in the safety wires...


Jeff (4 years ago) Reply

Good eyes. She's actually hanging onto the rope of an exercise machine or something though. It's how she can survive the drop.


Genius (4 years ago) Reply

That much stealing from other films would put me off not matter how great the film is.
The last Great Korean Film I saw was Age of Shadows!

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