Memories of the Sword (협녀, 칼의 기억) – ★★☆☆☆

Memories of the SwordMany years ago, a peasant uprising led by the legendary 3 Swords goes awry when Deok-gi (Lee Byung-hun) betrays the band of warriors by aligning with the corrupt king and murdering Poong-chun (Bae Soo-Bin). Distraught, Seol-rang (Jeon Do-yeon) flees with Poong-chan’s infant daughter Hong-yi, vowing revenge. 18 years later, Hong-yi (Kim Go-eun) has become a master swordsman thanks to the tutelage of the now-blind Seol-rang, and upon learning of her tragic history embarks on a quest to avenge her father.

Hong-yi prepares to test her skills

Hong-yi tests her skills against the military’s finest warrior

Memories of the Sword is perhaps best described as a Korean attempt at the wuxia sub-genre, a particularly bold undertaking by writer/director Park Heung-sik considering the its very Chinese origins and the quality of titles to emerge. To his credit, Memories of the Sword is a handsomely shot film and often features beautifully composed sequences as characters interact with stunning natural landscapes. The film owes a huge debt of gratitude to cinematographer Kim Byeong-seo as he employs wuxia traits to make a visually engaging and stylised piece of work that is rare in K-cinema.

Yet Memories of the Sword falls apart due to its highly convoluted plot and poor narrative structure. Attempts to create melodrama and intrigue between characters quickly become tedious as the relationships and shared histories presented are laborious to endure, while big reveals that could have injected tension into the story are haphazardly divulged. As such, it’s often difficult to tell whether Memories of the Sword is a reverential wuxi undertaking or a parody of the genre.

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Blind master Seol-rang perfects her swordplay

Both Jeon Do-yeon and Lee Byung-hun are without a doubt two of the most talented actors in Korean cinema, and it’s a genuine delight to see them interact on screen together. Jeon Do-yeon in particular stands out in Memories of the Sword as she injects a passionate intensity and humanity into Seol-rang, an impressive feat given the character is so thread-bare. Kim Go-eun is also a great talent as witnessed in A Muse, yet here she appears to be in completely different film to her co-stars as she overacts her way through scenes with youthful glee.

In terms of action, no one fairs especially well when it comes to the martial arts sequences and wire-work essential to the film. The choreography is competent but generally uninspired, failing to generate the required investment to make the thrills riveting viewing. While watching it’s impossible to not recall superior examples of the genre – notably Hero and House of Flying Daggers, from which Memories of the Sword appears to take so much influence – and wish to be watching them instead.

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Villainess Deok-gi lusts for power

Verdict:

Memories of the Sword is visually impressive Korean attempt at the wuxia sub-genre, yet aside from a selection of beautifully composed scenes the martial arts adventure falls flat.

★★☆☆☆

 

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Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자) English subtitled premiere in Yongsan

The promotional stand for Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자)

The promotional stand for Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자)

On September the 10th in Yongsan, a special English subtitled premiere was held for soon-to-be released period drama Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자). A special stand was placed in the foyer of CGV cinema to promote the event, which featured posters and large displays of images from the film, as well as the CGV staff who all wore t-shirts emblazoned with the film title. The event was hosted by the delightful President Kim Ho-sung (김호성) from REALIES Pictures, one of the main production company behind the film, who was kind enough to introduce the film to the audience. President Kim informed those present that the king in Masquerade himself, Lee Byeong-heon (이병현), was due to appear and introduce the film but was called away that very morning to Montreal to shoot Red 2 with Bruce Willis and company.

President Kim Ho-sung and I

President Kim Ho-sung and I

Once the introduction by President Kim had finished, the audience settled down to watch Masquerade. The early reports of the quality of the film have not been exaggerated as the film is an incredibly well produced period drama featuring sumptuous visuals as well as an excellent performance by Lee Byeong-heon; indeed, the celebrated actor’s nuanced acting prowess and charisma took the audience through a variety of emotions from laughing out loud to stunned silence.

President Kim introduced Masquerade to an excited audience

President Kim introduced Masquerade to an excited audience

As the credits began to role Masquerade received rapturous applause, with several audience members congratulating President Kim as they exited the cinema. The praise is well-deserved as Masquerade is certainly one of the best Korean films of the year, and is highly, highly recommended.

The review for Masquerade will be online in the next few days, and is on general release in Korea this weekend.

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