Memories of the Sword

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“Looks lovely, yet literally loses the plot.”

memoriesoftheswordThe first 30 minutes of this are truly splendid: it’s got wonderful visuals, along the lines of Hero or House of Flying Daggers. But then, it’s as if the makers completely forgot about the story-line. The remainder of the two hours consists of semi-random scenes, half in flashback, featuring characters who apparently change names at random. While it still looks awesome, unless you have a detailed synopsis printed out in advance, you’re going to be reduced to going “Ooh!” and “Eh?” in roughly equal proportions.

As best as I can tell, the story is this. Hong-ee (Kim), also known as Seoi-hee, is a young martial arts prodigy, trained since birth by her blind foster mother, Seol-rang (Jeon), a.k.a Wallso. After Hong-ee’s talents become public knowledge, Wallso reveals the motive for the training. A long time ago, as Seol-rang, she was one of three rebel group leaders. The group were betrayed to the authorities by another leader, Deok-gi (Lee BH), who was rewarded with a position as the ruler’s right-hand man, and is now known as Yoo-Baek. He once loved Seol-rang, and realizes that Hong-ee is the daughter of the third leader, Poong-Cheon. [Fortunately, he was killed by Deok-gi, so does not complicate the plot further, under that or any other name] She has been brought up to act as an instrument of revenge, driven by the knowledge that Yoo-Baek killed her parents.

There is, it appears, a bit more than that going on, particularly in the middle hour where… other stuff happens. For example, there’s the inevitable romance between Seoi-hee and another young fighter, Yoo-Baek’s champion, Yull (Lee JH). This seems to have been added purely for cynically commercial purposes, though since it largely tanked at the Korean box-office… The action scenes are generally well-staged, though some of the CGI looks more than a little unconvincing. Some moments reminded me of Shaolin Soccer, and there has been close to 15 years of technological advances since then. It’s on more solid footing when using wire-fu, and both female leads are convincing enough in their skills.

The high level of confusion likely generated, however, means this isn’t going to be much more than empty emotional experience. You’re left so busy trying to figure out who’s doing what to whom, and why, you don’t have time to care about the participants. That’s why it falls so significantly short of the films it’s clearly trying to imitate, particularly Crouching Tiger. Instead, what you have here is purely cinema as spectacle. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with this approach, of course. It’s just that when so much effort has been put into the technical aspects, you’re inevitably left wishing for more. If only the film’s heart and soul had been as diligently worked on as its cinematography.

Dir: Park Heung-sik
Star: Kim Go-eun. Jeon Do-yeon, Lee Byung-hun, Lee Jun-ho

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