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January 07, 2016

Memories of the Sword

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Hyeomnyeo: Kar-ui gi-eo
Park Heung-shik - 2015
Well Go USA Entertainment BD Region A

For the first few minutes, I had high hopes for Memories of the Sword. I'm susceptible to the charms of plucky young women clearly skilled in sword-fighting, even it's with a bamboo stick. I could even forgive a convoluted story in which three of the main characters are known by two different names as part of their particular story details. What gets in the way is how Park Heung-shik is over-reliant on acrobatics achieved with wire works and CGI.

The story involves a romantic triangle, two men and a woman, master sword fighters, fighting against a corrupt governor, during the Goryeo era, roughly the equivalent of Europe's High and Late Middle Ages. One of the men sells out betraying the other two. The narrative also includes two daughters, one of whom is trained to avenge the death of her parents, the main portion of the film. What ensues are the revealings of true identities, ending with what has lately become a cinematic cliche, the sword fight in the snow.

I've only seen one other film by Park, Bravo, My Life!, a more modest production buoyed up by the presence of Moon So-Ri. Between these two films lies the suspicion that Park's ability to tell a story is uneven at best, and that he gets by with a capable cast, whose conviction in their roles covers up Park's weaknesses.

One aspect that I did find of interest, something that is not seen but in a small handful of Asian films, is that part of the film takes place fleetingly in an Arabian section of a Korean city. There is also an Arab who is a minor character. This is the kind of moment that makes me wish that the film was more historically rooted, rather than being a martial arts fantasy.

Jeon Do-yeon is probably the best known cast member, seen here as the blind, former swords woman, and mother of Hong-ki, the young woman seeking revenge. During the very brief time that films from South Korea played in stateside art houses, Jeon was seen in Secret Sunshine and the remake of The Housemaid. Kim Go-eun, as Hong-Ki, looks much younger than her actual age. Kim is more interesting as a sometimes smart-alecky teenager, acting on impulse, than when taking her too frequent gravity defying flights in the course of a duel, or trying to outrun her pursuer. All said, the historical details, and the quality of the production should have been used for a film that too often appears to be a retread of the imitators of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 7, 2016 09:37 AM