During the Korean New wave, the country has come out with real phenomenal dramas, horror, and a few swordplay epics. Two of the more successful films of Korean epics are the terrific adventure film "Musa the Warrior" and the Wuxia epic "Bichunmoo". There have also been other attempts to produce a Wuxia epic and most of them are either a hit or a miss. "Shadowless Sword" (aka. Muyeong Geom, retitled "Legend of Shadowless Sword") is from Kim Yung-jun, the same director of "Bichunmoo". This film fares a lot better when in regards to screenplay and action sequences compared to Kim‘s first Wuxia film. The direction is much more coherent and solid this time. Action Junkies will certainly be entertained with this film, even though it was released some years ago in 2005 (despite New Line has invested in this film, it is now only getting a U.S. release in 2008?), the film still stands as one of the most entertaining Wuxia epics I've seen from South Korea.
10th century Korea, the Balhae Dynasty have all but fallen due to an invasion. Resistance fighters are hard pressed to find a new leader when all members of the Royal family have perished save one; Prince Jeong Hyeon (Seo Jin Lee). To avoid attention, a lone female warrior named Soha (Yoon So-yi, ARAHAN) is dispatched to find the Prince. Unbeknownst to her, the self-exiled Prince has become a dealer of used goods and have no intensions of returning to royalty. To make matters more complicated, the Killer Blade Army led by Kun (Hyeong Jun-Shin) with his second in command; lovely Mae (Ki-Yong Lee) is also on the trail of the Prince to assassinate him. Soha must convince the wayward prince just how important he is to her country's fate, awaken his fighting skills and protect him from the Killer Blade army.
While "Bichunmoo" had a more intricate storyline, its script was almost impossible to follow. Kim Yung-jun's second film has a larger budget and his directorial skills seems to have been honed. "Shadowless Sword" (I prefer to call it by its original title) has a simple storyline and is very predictable. No surprises can be had with this film, the film is actually a chase film; the two leads are being pursued all over while fighting their way back Balhae. The usual formulas are omnipresent, Soha and Prince Jeong find each other; they bond and learn to care for each other with the usual twists in their past relationship. Its predictability may be somewhat disappointing if one is expecting a more complex script. However, the two leads are well-developed and the film's pace and style is mesmerizing enough that the film is never dull and boring.
The film's main draw and its greatest strength will have to its nicely executed swordplay and fight sequences. There are lots of nifty forest battles and a nicely shot underwater fight (although this may require a suspension of disbelief). The encounters between women-warriors Soha and Mae are truly exciting and quite enchanting. Their fights are beautifully shot, well-choreographed and intense. It was no accident that So-yi Yoon was cast as our female heroine after her performance in the action-fantasy "Arahan". The actress is charismatic, agile and once again proves that she is capable in the film's physical aspects. Lee Ki-Yong also proves a worthy rival, she is in every way Soha's equal in martial arts skills. The film has a lot of fights and cool poses; even shurikens are thrown, high-flying Martial Arts are the film's style of fighting and rivals those seen in some of the best Chinese Wuxia epics. I've also noticed that Korean filmmakers have evolved their own "stylized" blood splattering effects with a lot of ‘explosive' attitude.
While Yoon So-yi and Lee Ki-yong does undoubtedly steal the show, the main villain, played by Hyeong Jun Shin (Bichunmoo) is an almost identical twin to the villain in "Gingko Bed". I'm not sure, the actor does a decent job with his character overall, but something about the ‘eye-liner' just turns me off. Kun is more than a one-dimensional villain, his goals and motives are actually one that can generate sympathy but I suppose there are men who can pull off ‘mascara' and there are those who can't. Seo jin Lee does keep the movie moving, his character's devices to avoid his would-be protector and his assailants manages to add more depth to the film's simple plot. Also, Prince Jeong's change in attitude and his past does give some added ‘meat' to its plot. The most underused character is Mae, her character has a lot of potential but she seemed underdeveloped. The woman is loyal to Kun but their relationship does leave the reasons to mere assumptions by the audience.
The film also has cleverly paced bits of satire in the first half as our two leads encounter a gang led by a character who looks like the Korean knock-off of "Captain Jack Sparrow" that made me crack up. The interlude where Soha and Prince Jeong encounter a band of bandits who look like ‘tribute' characters to "House of Flying Daggers" is a nice touch. The film is focused in its direction and the set designs are also quite good. The costumes are elaborate enough to draw attention and yet, they don‘t look too superficial.
A film like "Shadowless Sword" will either shine or fail with its promise of pure action entertainment and on this promise it didn‘t falter. The film is loaded with highly stylized martial arts that would definitely more than make up for its faults. The movements are precise and graceful enough while maintaining its hard-hitting intensity. Many would compare it to "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" which would be unfair (personally, I wasn't really that impressed with that movie). It‘s a different film entirely and "Shadowless Sword" does stand on its own. If you want a lot of nicely shot stylized martial arts then this film will not disappoint.
"SHADOWLESS SWORD" is a substantial entry to Korea's foray into Wuxia/Swordplay adventure. The film is definitely entertaining and enjoyable from beginning to end. The director's cut clocks in at 2 hours, and the direction is to be commended that it feels like it was a mere 90 minutes. Its abundance in action sequences, bits of humor, eye-candy wirework, the film goes at a pace that exudes pure entertainment that I forgave the perfunctory romance and almost too melodramatic ending.
I've said before in my previous review and I'll say it again: "It's the Best South Korean Wuxia Swordplay epic I've seen thus far!"…and I've seen them all.
Highly Recommended! [4 Stars]
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