The Villainess(aka Ak-Nyeo, 악녀, 惡女). an elite assassin goes on a rampage to win back her freedom. This opens with one of the most intense and enjoyable rip-roaring action sequences in recent memory, where no fewer than 50 henchmen are dispatched in a 6-minute point-of-view frenzy of shooting / stabbing / and kick-punching – think of the Oldboy‘s infamous corridor scene, but from Hardcore Henry’s perspective! The film also ends with an equally-impressive action finale involving a bus and a lot of great stuntwork / choreography. It’s peppered throughout with shorter bursts of ultra-violent, and undeniably ‘cool’ blood-spurting over-the-top moments. As you’ve probably guessed, the action scenes are second-to-none… however, they only total around a quarter of the 120 minute runtime; which is a shame as the film if being sold as purely an action film in the same vein as The Raid (the UK poster namechecks Kill Bill, Nikita, John Wick, Hardcore Henry, and Hong Kong Era John Woo!!!). The problem with these comparisons are that – as an overall film – The VIllainess nowhere near as strong as those classics. It’s also lacking in originality in that you can see where shots / scenes / characters have been lifted wholesale from the aforementioned movies; for example, the lead’s backstory is identical to Oren Ishii’s of Kill Bill. The story jumps around the timeline in a manner that is unnecessarily confusing until the final act, where it all kinda (?) fits together. Despite being built from bits and pieces of other action flicks, the action scenes in The Villainess are still inventive, great fun to watch and the spectacle (+ “how did they do that!?” factor) of these alone should entice genre aficionados. It makes it all the more frustrating that these scenes are lost in a flabby, overlong, underwhelming, and melodramatic plot – which could have done with losing around 30 minutes to make it a tighter and more focused / straight-forward action film.
Thirst: after a failed experiment a priest develops an urge to drink human blood, it doesn’t help that the world thinks he’s blessed by god, and he’s falling in love. For most of the runtime the film never really ups gear, remaining slow and intense from start to finish – the setup in particular takes time to get going. Adding to the mood are some morbid undertones (suicidal priest, very awkward sex scene etc). The final act feels like a jumbled-up mess, with lots of sudden developments and a lot to tie up, although the last scenes do save the movie. Much like OldBoy, JSA, I’m a Cyborg, and Sympathy for Mr vengeance, Park Chan Wook’s streak of offbeat, oddball and very, very black humour crops up to provide some guilty laughs. Leading man Song Kang-ho is superb to watch as his character wrestles between his moral/religious background and new-found vampire urges. The scariest part of the film is how technically proficient and well-directed it is, no matter how dingy or clinical the settings are, they’re immaculately planned, framed to perfection, and the camera movement is immense… this guy is, without a doubt, one of the best directors in the world. Whilst Thirst is a fresh, poetic, and ultra-stylish take on the crammed vampire genre, its own silver bullet is the slow pacing and lack of drama for the most part. It’s not a bad film, by any stretch, but will probably appeal most to goths and fans of vampires / blood / self-harming / sex.
JSA: Joint Security Area: focuses on the investigation after a fatal shooting at the highly sensitive North/South Korean border. The police-procedural investigation element is done very well, and as the story unfolds you’re drying to find out what really happened. It also does a good job of explaining the tensions between North & South Korea and most interestingly – shows a neutral account from both sides. The two main solders are outstanding Byung-Hun / Kang-ho; I couldn’t recommend both their filmographies enough. From Park Chan Wook, this is a sensational international debut, well-shot, showing a master craftsman in the youth of his career. The final shot is phenomenal, smart and pretty unforgettable. I’m glad this was made with ‘global’ in mind, aiding its travel and success – some English dialogue and title cards etc. The sleeping on the job / army bromance goes a little too far, but other than that, the film is a great drama piece, with characters that you fully invest in. Perhaps it’s that we only get the best released in the UK, but I genuinely believe that South Korea has some of the best talent in the film industry both in front of – and behind – the camera, and this is a great example.