An in­ter­view with Lo­gan Lucky di­rec­tor Steven Soder­bergh; a re­view of Jung Byung-gil’s The Vil­lai­ness

THIS SUM­MER’S HIGH­EST-OCTANE THRILLER, THE VIL­LAI­NESS, OF­FERS AN IRRESISTIBLY SEN­TI­MEN­TAL KILLING MA­CHINE

Newsweek - - NEWS - —CHARLES TAY­LOR

YOU’RE BARELY set­tled into your seat at the South Korean re­venge ex­trav­a­ganza The

Vil­lai­ness be­fore ar­te­rial blood starts spray­ing across the screen. Lib­er­ace had the Danc­ing Wa­ters. Di­rec­tor Jung Byung-gil has the Danc­ing Carotids, crim­son aerosols ac­com­pa­nied by the sssssss sound that sig­ni­fies some­body’s tank will soon be empty.

The film’s in­tri­cately chore­ographed open­ing se­quence is like a video game, with the au­di­ence as­sum­ing the view of an uniden­ti­fied as­sailant, shoot­ing, stab­bing and hack­ing their way through a ware­house of bad­dies. It’s meant to be a shock when this killing ma­chine stops in front of a mir­ror and we see that

it’s a woman! Not only that, but a diminu­tive ado­les­cent.

This will be less of a sur­prise to fans of Asian movies, with their long his­tory of fe­male ac­tion stars (Brigitte Lin, Michelle Yeoh, Mag­gie Che­ung, Shu Qi, Mag­gie Q). What is en­tirely new about The Vil­lai­ness is that it mar­ries its re­venge sce­nario to a melo­drama of ma­ter­nal sac­ri­fice, with the film’s ter­rific star, Kim Ok­bin, suf­fer­ing more than Joan Craw­ford ever did.

Kim plays Sook-hee, trained to be a killer since child­hood, and the ini­tial blood­bath is her re­venge on the thugs who mur­dered some­one she loves. Caught by South Korea’s In­tel­li­gence Agency, she is forced into a sort of fin­ish­ing school for sleeper cell as­sas­sins. The movie bor­rows heav­ily from La Femme

Nikita, and as in that 1990 film, Sook-hee can gain her free­dom only by go­ing back into the world to kill gov­ern­ment tar­gets. But in this case there’s also an adored tod­dler, raised by Sookhee dur­ing her train­ing, which al­lows her han­dlers to ap­ply ex­tra in­cen­tive.

Some­where amid the tears and gore is a po­tent idea about need­ing to kill your past to move on with your life. I have to con­fess to get­ting lost among the plot machi­na­tions, lay­ers of be­trayal and some­times dis­ori­ent­ing flash­backs. But I ad­mired the blunt ag­gres­sion of the melo­drama, and the kind of truly vi­cious may­hem that, as be­fits a great sick joke, makes you gasp and guf­faw at the same time.

It also suc­cess­fully unites two cin­ema archetypes—the suf­fer­ing woman and the male bent on vengeance—in one char­ac­ter, al­low­ing Sook-hee to be both un­for­giv­ing and vul­ner­a­ble. That’s what’s miss­ing from

Atomic Blonde, the sum­mer’s other fe­male re­venge of­fer­ing. Char­l­ize Theron’s agent is sent on a mis­sion to re­trieve a cache of in­for­ma­tion that could be em­bar­rass­ing to Western in­tel­li­gence; a more com­pelling mo­tive would have been a quest to get the bas­tards who killed her lover. But the movie isn’t con­ceived to al­low Theron, an ac­tress who has al­ways sug­gested febrile in­ten­sity be­neath a com­posed ex­te­rior, to mourn, even in those pri­vate mo­ments that form the bond be­tween char­ac­ter and movie­goer.

Atomic Blonde is still a tri­umph of style, thanks to the sleek and steely Theron, but its hol­low­ness is odd, given that the di­rec­tor, David Leitch, co-di­rected John

Wick, a film that worked so well be­cause the soul­ful Keanu Reeves was al­lowed to fea­ture his char­ac­ter’s mourn­ful­ness as much as his thirst for vengeance. It’s a combo that cuts to the heart of the low­down ap­peal of ac­tion movies, and The Vil­lai­ness has it in bloody abun­dance. The Vil­lai­ness opens Au­gust 22.

KILL RIDE: Kim in one of the film’s two flat-out-nuts (in a good way) ac­tion se­quences on wheels.

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