The RESTLESS (aka. Jeong-Cheon) is a fantasy adventure film set in a world of souls that have passed away long before they are reincarnated. This latest WUXIA foray from South Korea combines the elements of love and romance, fantasy and terrific swordplay, martial arts action in an eternal battle between good and evil. Directed by Jo Dong-Oh, this fantasy epic gives its focus on elaborate costumes, expensive set designs with a tale of romance and loyalty. People who are familiar with Chinese Wuxia epics will no doubt embrace "The Restless", with the usual style of wire fu reminiscent of Chinese outings such as Tsui Hark‘s "The Legend Of Zu" and the more recent Korean Wuxia such as "Shadowless Sword". (It would be unfair to compare this film to "Musa the warrior" which I will review that film later on)
Jung Woo-Sung(Musa the Warrior) is Gwak Yi, a former Chuyongdae(Royal Demon hunters) who after an encounter with demon-hybrids to protect a village, unexpectedly finds himself in Mid-Heaven, a pseudo-Buddhist holding where deceased souls gather to wait 49 days for their eventual reincarnation. There, Gwak Yi meets So-Hwa (Kim Tae-hee), a supposed deity who is assigned an important task. So-hwa must deliver the so-called "Holy Stone" to the "Pool of Reflection" in order to prevent evil-doers from upsetting the balance between Earth and Heaven. If she fails then no one will be reincarnated. Noble and fearless, Gwak Yi enlists in Son-Hwa's cause immediately but he has his own hidden motivation.
Son-hwa is a dead ringer for Gwak Yi's former love Yon-Hwa, whom he failed to protect from an untimely death. Actually, they are the same being, Son-hwa is a "Chuneen", resurrected deity with no recollection of their past life on Earth. This complicates matters for both Gwak Yi and Son-hwa even further when Gwak Yi's former comrades(led by Hur Jun-ho) as a "Chuyongdae" are the ones who threaten the stability of Mid-Heaven. Meaning that in order to help Son-hwa, he must once again send his former comrades(to whom he owes a debt of honor) in the earthly plane to suffer a second death.
The astounding CGI effects and set designs, awesome action, superb martial arts choreography are the elements that carry this Wuxia swordplay fantasy tale. The film is definitely technically sound and it is so obvious that its budget went to the film's special effects. The Martial arts choreography rivals other Chinese installments, and definitely displays its competency in regards to adrenaline-pumping action sequences. The film is definitely engaging when it comes to action sequences; Highlights include a very cool forest battle and the grand-daddy of all climactic battles where Gwak-Yi engages 10,000 demonic spirits alone. (Azumi would eat her pretty little heart out). The action is engaging and plentiful; that will make fans of superb CGI designs stand up and cheer. PS3 and Xbox fans will no doubt be entertained.
Aside from the CGI-enhanced action sequences, what stands out the most is the spectacular costumes and sets. Although, the colors and rendering may not put "The Promise" or "The Banquet" to shame, it is nonetheless very impressive. The acting is quite decent, Jung Woo-Sung shows his usual charismatic manly appeal that wooed female fans in "A Moment to Remember". Lovely Kim Tae-Hee performance is partly acceptable, I do have mixed feelings about her performance after this 2nd viewing; she seemed to have limited expressions in emotion. The villains seems to be a little over-expressive in their demeanor, but thankfully, Heo Jun-Ho bears much of the weight since he does have a unique villainous aura.
Visually stunning and quite beautiful, the film is not without its faults. The problem with the screenplay is that when there are no fights, the proceedings are slow-paced that it almost stops to a crawl. Strong characters are definitely needed to form an attachment to its viewers. People may say that the characters are a bit underdeveloped and while I do partly agree, (there was no explanation at all as to how the villains gained their powers); I do believe that the reason why some people may feel this way is because a lot of it happens in the form of flashbacks and at times, it does prove blurry. Also, folks unfamiliar with Buddhist lore may find themselves a little lost, as to what some places mean and as to why are reincarnations relevant to the lost souls.
The Restless is indeed a masterpiece in Korean film-making in terms of technical aspects. This fantasy-adventure will definitely charm the audience with its gorgeous execution in set designs. It is not a piece of contemporary Wuxia but more of an overindulgent fantasy epic that has gained mass international appeal. The film is also geared for action/CGI fan boys. The film may have some difficulty connecting to some viewers and some may consider the film very superficial. There's good and evil, love and hate; but it all seems to have been overshadowed by its stunning visuals that it seemed to lack credibility. It may be a little difficult to wow an audience if all you have going is the action and grand sets.
Regardless, "The Restless" does not offer much in originality that would make it stand out, it makes the film a little forgettable. On the action-entertainment side of the coin, the film doesn't disappoint. It may be more of an execution of "style over substance"…But what a style it is to behold!
Recommended! [3 ½ + Stars]
Note: I own the uncut region-3 release from CJ Entertainment (Korea) with terrific video and DTS sound. The U.S. release is expected to carry an English dubbed track.
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