The Villainess Blu-ray Review
South Korean cinema fuses Nikita, Oldboy and Hardcore Henry
Movies reviewSRP: £9.99
The Villainess is, in many respects, a South Korean remake of Luc Besson's classic Nikita, with Hardcore Henry's FPS style, The Raid's fights and Oldboy's convoluted revenge plot.This gives director Jung Byung-gil's distinctive action thriller some pretty big standards to meet, aspiring to provide depth of plot and characterisation whilst delivering frenetic video game set pieces dialled up to 11. Unfortunately, despite some fantastic action - the opening Hardcore Henry-style sequence sets an impossible action benchmark for the rest of the film - the odd, Nikita-meets-Oldboy plot is far too convoluted for its own good. It's not that you can't understand that the murder of the father inspired a revenge plot that came back to bite itself in the ass, but the long, drawn out way of telling the story does it no favours. At least The Raid kept it simple, The Raid 2 made it richer, and Oldboy kept the complications to one final twist; The Villainess suffocates the entire middle act with flashbacks and 'revelations' which just unravel the characters, leaving them a shell of the people you were just getting to know.Kim Ok-bin's titular Villainess kicks all kinds of ass in all manners possible (most impressively when they go out of a window and dangle down to the street below) with impossible shots making for an undeniably visceral experience, however, in part due to the 'plastic surgery' aspect and in part due to the flashbacks, she doesn't really remain very distinctive a player in her own tale. The first and last act are driven by her mainly because she breaks heads, but, in-between, it gets tedious, and the final revelations underwhelm. Indeed what's most remarkable about The Villainess is the innovative shooting style, which blends first person to third person seamlessly, flipping happily in fight sequences from being from the protagonist's point of view, to being a first person view as if you were standing right next to her. Jung Byung-gil knows action, and it's a mainstream action gig he's going to get off the back of this.
Picture QualityArrow's Region B-locked UK release of The Villainess promotes the film with a reasonably strong 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen. Sure, it's not perfect by any means, but it should be afforded a little leeway considering not only the budgetary restrictions but also the audacious and imaginative filmmaking techniques used to capture some of the shots. When it's using straightforward filming, it stands up impressively as a very good video presentation, and when it's not, well you're too busy watching people getting hacked and slashed to care.
It's not perfect, but it should be afforded a little leeway considering the imaginative filmmaking
Detail on the traditional shots remains very good indeed, picking up skin textures and tones, background nuances, and clothing weaves. The colour scheme is moody and dark, but still vibrant and popping with crimson tones and flashes of neon lighting. When things get all hand-held and fish-eyed, the picture quality does drop somewhat; the effects are a little soft, and the quality of the image can fluctuate. But it's so intense and visceral that you're unlikely to care, drawing you into the sequences and delivering the killer blows with panache. Indeed you're more likely to be wondering just how they shot some of these scenes rather than worry about how they look.
Sound QualityArrow deliver The Villainess with a stomping DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that hits you in the face right from the intense opening sequence, as the excellent score drives the pace and strings together the action, whilst the effects tear apart your living room.
A dynamic, bombastic offering that makes this piece even more immersive
Dialogue - in its original Korean - remains firmly prioritised across the frontal array, with clear subtitling easing your understanding throughout the endeavour, but it's the score and effects that stand out: the former providing the backbone to the piece and igniting the soundstage whenever things get a little crazy, whilst the latter tries to do you grievous bodily harm. The Villainess has quite an interesting sound design, as the action flits between first person and third person (and somewhere in-between) the sound has to keep up with the placement of effects relevant to your viewpoint, bringing slashes right up to your face, with bullets whizzing right past you. It's a dynamic, bombastic offering that makes the first and last acts of this piece even more immersive.
ExtrasThe limited extras include just an Audio Commentary from a couple of Arrow Video podcast members who talk about the film, the director and the action, as well as the cast and the stunts, along with a Trailer.
Blu-ray VerdictThe Villainess is a visually innovative production that delivers on the action front
The Villainess is a visually innovative production, and certainly delivers on the action front, but it would have been better served by a more efficient narrative which doesn't so desperately try to over-complicate things. Jettison the middle act and it would have better survived comparisons to The Raid (although also risked drawing less favourable comparisons to the admittedly flimsy Hardcore Henry) but this is no Oldboy - or Nikita - in terms of its story or characters, so they should have kept things simpler.
Arrow Video offer up The Villainess not long after its limited theatrical run, on a Region B-locked UK Blu-ray complete with strong video and excellent audio, as well as a commentary from their own podcast crew. Fans should consider it a very good release; those intrigued by the action style should certainly check it out.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £9.99