September 10, 2008

DVD Review: The Legend of the Shadowless Sword

The Legend of the Shadowless Sword is an epic swordplay drama from South Korea, very much in the vein of House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. However, while it is a great looking film, it fails to live up to the expectations put in place by its Hong Kong counterparts. While I felt entertained for the near two-hour long film, I did not feel that I was involved in the story. The title implies some level of mystical content (at least for me it did), but the closest you get are your standard flying fighters that glide over the water and skip along trees. This is a movie whose bottomline is entertainment with little to offer in terms of greatness, which is not a problem as sometimes all we need is a movie that entertains.

No time is spared to set up the plot. It is 926 A.D., Balhae, the capital city, comes under siege by the neighboring Georan. The scattered people of Balhae are not about to give up their land without a fight. The warriors come together but they need a member of the royal line to unite the people under a single banner. The problem is that the only remaining member of the royals is a prince that had fled into exile years earlier.

This initial set up is delivered in bloody fashion as the last royal still in the capital is murdered by the Georan's Killer Blade Army as they attack in the black of night. This sends the people into a panic as they need to find someone to unite the people in their battle. Meanwhile, the Georan leaders know there is one left, and that the Balhae leaders have sent a lone warrior to find him and bring him back. So what do they do? They send their own warrior to find him first.... and kill him!

All of this is done in the opening minutes. The story picks up in earnest with So-ha (So-yi Yoon) traveling to a remote village where the exiled prince is living under the name of So-sam (Lee Seo-jin). Of course, this would-be king shows no interest in leaving his comfortable life. His opinion soon changes when Mae-yeong-ok (Lee Gi-yeong), the Georan swordswoman arrives. Her mission is both professional, to kill the prince, and personal, to become the best swordswoman by defeating So-ha.

The next 90-minutes or so follow this format: So-ha and So-sam flee the oncoming Killer Blade Army, the stop and talk about protecting what is precious, the Army catches up, they fight, repeat. There is little to no variation upon that for the middle chuck of the film. It actually does get a little repetitive and only serves to keep one at arms length from any sort of emotional involvement.

What makes the lack of narrative depth easier to take is the fact that the action is fun, the cinematography is good, and the overall production design just looks so good. The film is quite beautiful to look at, even if the cast uses as much eye makeup as Johnny Depp.

I was a little disappointed not to get any mystical sword content, but I get, and respect what they were doing with the sword. It is not a magically endowed sword, it is about respecting the sword and your enemies, not using it out of anger, but for defending that which you hold dear.

There are a couple of things holding this back from being a much stronger film. First is the writing. For being an epic film, the writing is awfully mundane. There is not much time spent on the big picture, outside of the bookending sequences. This is not helped by the lack of chemistry between So-yi Yoon and Lee Seo-jin. So-yi is lovely to look at, but when you put these two together, they may as well be magnets of the same polarity. Lastly, there is the ending, an ending that feels awfully familiar and goes on for way too long. The movie could definitely have benefitted from some snappier editing.

Audio/Video. The technical specs of this release are top notch. The widescreen image is crisp, clean and does justice to that nice cinematography. Audio, provided in its original Korean, is also nice and clear. Subtitles are provided.

  • Character Introductions. This is a series of interviews with the Villain, the Companion, and the King. They are interesting in showing how the performers approached the roles.(17.5 minutes)
  • Behind the Scenes. This is a brief collection of set clips with some sondbites from the performers. Fun to watch once, but not much replay value (6.5 minutes)
  • Picture Gallery. This is a series of production stills that cannot be navigated and run with a piece of the score playing behind them. (1.5 minutes)
  • Music Video. A soaring ballad of a song that plays over clips from the film (>4 minutes)
  • International Trailer. (2 minutes)

Bottomline. The movie is not one to be savored or explored, it is one to be enjoyed on a surface level. On that surface level it excels, it is great to look at and has plenty of action.



Post a Comment