What opens as a first person shooter ends in a character study of torment, rage, and madness.

If you’ve seen La Femme Nikita (1990) or The Point of No Return (2010) the story will seem familiar. Violent young female commits a heinous crime and finds herself caught between death and a hard place. In this case, the hard place is the South Korean intelligence agency, who promises Sook-hee freedom (and a pension) after 10 years of service.  If only things were so simple.

Kim Ok-Bin,  who brilliantly played Tae-ju, Sang-hyun’s ( Song Kang-ho ) ruthless vampire companion in Chan-wook Park’s outstanding horror film Thirst (2009) assumes the role of our protagonist, and once again submits a stellar performance. The Villainess begins with a well worn premise but rapidly begins to put its own unique spin on it making the film quite distinct (and often very dark) in its own right. It is a film brave enough to defy conventions but wise enough not to overplay its hand.

It has more twist and turns than a Norwegian pretzel but Kim Ok-Bin keeps it all anchored with a palpable sincerity. Whether it’s being a nurturing mother, a popular stage actress, or deadly assassin leaping onto moving buses, when she does it, you believe it. But what really helps The Villainess is that she doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting alone. Sung Joon, Shin Ha-kyun ( who was also in Thirst), and Kim Seo-hyung all bring the drama…and the pain in this Korean actioner.

South Korea has been a force to be reckoned with for almost two decades in the film industry and it doesn’t look like they are slowing down anytime soon. Keep it coming guys!

The performances are solid. The action sequences are mesmerizing. Director Jung Byung-gil wraps the entire affair in a frenetic style that makes a classic tale fresh again.

Not a bad way to spend two hours if you got em.

4 out of 5 stars