International audiences have always been so familiar with Japanese chambara, Chinese Wuxia and it was only a few years ago during the Korean New wave that international audiences really got introduced with Korean Wuxia and their swordplay adventures. Based on the Korean manhwa (graphic novel) called “Like the Moon Escaping From The Clouds“, director Lee Joon-Ik brings a tale of political turmoil in a time where countrymen are more set to fight amongst each other than to face a greater threat.
1592 and Korea is fractured and being torn apart by political imbalance and turmoil. This happens to be also the time when the country is about to be threatened by Japanese invaders that intend to go through Korea to reach China. A brave swordsman called Lee Mong-Hak (Seung-Won Cha) goes forward to overthrow the King in his belief to save his country, but this revolution is opposed by his old comrade, blind swordsman Hwang Jeong-Hak (Hwang Jung-Min). Joining the intrigue and mayhem are young Geong-Ja (Seong-Heong Baek), whose father was killed by Lee and this youth comes seeking vengeance while Mong-Hak’s scorned lover, Baek-Ji (Ji-Hye Han) has her own reasons for seeking out this formidable swordsman…
I am not exactly certain how the screenplay would be compare with the original story by Park Heung-Young, but I suppose Lee Joon-Ik did a good job in re-interpreting the material for the big screen. What I liked about the film is the way the direction flowed; I never for once felt bored and the more I got into the film’s plot, the more I wanted to see how it all turns out. The film seems to be a simple revenge, conspiracy premise, but what the direction does well is the way that it was able to develop the three main characters with a simple self-flowing structure. Lee Mong-Hak is a person who is seen as an antagonist, and yet he does have a dream that may come from honorable motivations. The film is rich with commentary about how a country should be united, but personal interests often gets in the way of true unity.
Now while the direction was able to say much about the social and political situation during this period, Lee uses the scenes between actors Seong-heong Baek and Hwang Jung-Min to allow the viewer to settle in. The two represent how countrymen should behave, they bicker and sometimes even fight, and yet, the two are united under one country. The two actors did their scenes very well. True, it was a simple teacher-student relationship, but the two managed to come out with a delightful chemistry that is both funny and sometimes even emotional. Much of the film’s burden falls on actor Hwang Jung-Min who just comes out with a superb performance as the blind, meek warrior. I’ve read that Jung-Min went to observe how blind people react in order to come out with a credible performance, and it sure paid off. I could truly believe that his character was handicapped, even as he engages in the action scenes.
Speaking of action scenes, they were competently choreographed and exquisitely shot. Actor Seung-Won Cha does more of the scenes and he truly embodied the presence of a single-minded warrior. The action sequences are quite bloody in their own way, and as with other Korean swordplay epics, the swordsmanship displayed are very beautiful while maintaining a certain kind of intensity. Slow-motion was kept to a minimum, and it was easy to feel the power behind each hack and slash as the sound was solid in delivering the clangs and rattling sounds of metal.
As entertained as I was, I did have some issues with some of the stories development as I saw some things that demanded a suspension of disbelief. Young Geong-Ja may be a novice, and I understand that he wasn’t a well-trained swordsman, but I thought some scenes between him and Baek-Ji felt a little too unnecessary. I have no doubt that readers of the manhwa could see through those issues, but I thought their ‘bonding’ felt a little too forced. Ji-Hye Han is a looker though, as I could not take my eyes off her. However, her character was a little too underdeveloped that I felt that she was mere eye-candy than anything else. I also had some issues with the film’s final scene, as I thought they fell too much into flag-waving and it became too melodramatic.
“Blades of Blood” may not become a Korean film classic, but I sure enjoyed watching the film. It was fun and action-packed, and despite its mild flaws, it was solid in directorial flow and it sure proved to be an easy watch. It is enough to appease the Asian cinema fan in me, and reminded me why I used to watch a lot of Korean cinema during the Korean new wave.