Watch memories of the sword


Not even A-list stars Jeon Do-yeon & Lee Byung-hun can save this plodding Korean martial-arts epic.

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An archetypal tale of love, betrayal và revenge among swordplayers of South Korea’sGoryeo dynasty (918-1392), “Memories of the Sword” is a visually arrestingbut vacuous,instantly forgettable period martial-arts romance. Helmer Park Heung-sik aspires to the vibrant color schemes và multiple twists of Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers,” but his underdeveloped screenplay (co-penned with Choi A-reum) và overwrought narrative makes for plodding viewing, squandering the clout of its A-list stars Jeon Do-yeon (“Secret Sunshine”) và Lee Byung-hun (“I Saw the Devil”). The pic took a beatingat the domestic B.O. But will have a good stab at overseas ancillary following its U.S. Bow.

The Korean title “Hyubnyeo: Kal ui ki-eok,” which roughly translates as “Martial Arts Heroine: Memories of the Sword,” alludes to lớn King Hu’s “A touch of Zen” (“hyubnyeo” being the Korean Hanja pronunciation of “Xia Nu,” the Chinese title of Hu’s classic abouta female swordswoman with a righteous vendetta). However, Park’s story is too much of a potboiler lớn achieve Hu’s philosophical depth, & the director’sstyle is more reminiscent of Lee Myung-se’s “Dualist” in its visual extravagance & incoherent, quasi-surreal narrative.

The yarn circles around three martial artists, eachcaught in his or herown anguished predicament. Innocent teenager Hong-yi (Kim Go-eun) has been raised by her blind adopted mother Seol-rang (Jeon) with the sole mission of avenging her parents’ deaths. Seol-rang once belonged to a band of warriors dedicated lớn overthrowing the corrupt monarchy. During one uprising, the rebels captured Jon-bak (Kim Tae-woo), the son of an evil magistrate (Moon Sung-geun) và stormed the đô thị gates. However, they were double-crossed by Seol-rang’s lover, Deok-ki (Lee), who killed his sworn brother Poong-chun (Bae Soo-bin) and his wife. Were it not for Seol-rang, the traitor would have finished off Poong-chun’s infant daughter, Hong-yi too, and the girl still bears the scar of a gash made by his sword.

Eighteenyears later, Deok-ki has risen in court to lớn become the King’s most favored man; yet he misses Seol-rang, whom he still loves. Nevertheless, when he accidentally spots Hong-yi displaying the same sword techniques as Seol-rang at a public sparring contest against his protege Yool (Lee Jun-ho, from the boy band 2PM), he doesn’t hesitate to snuffout any threat khổng lồ his status by whatever ruthless means necessary.

The three protags’ relationships — bound by strict martial-arts codes of honor và justice, yet thwarted by passion or ambition — are typical of the genre. However, able performances aside, the emotional turmoil of Deok-ki và Seol-rang meeting again, or Hong-yi’s faltering assumption of her avenging role, are lost in the overwrought structure of mulitiple flashbacks, replayed scenes and contrived coincidences. Even a twist that should intensify the trio’s love-hate conflicts culminates in a ending so lurid & overblown it’s almost comical. The budding attraction between Hong-yi and Yool would also have added some light-heartedness to the somber tone, but that, too, fizzles out after two mildly steamy scenes.

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While it’s almost impossible for Jeon to disappoint in any film, her imitation of blindness is not convincing as she alternates between fumbling around helplessly andslicing her opponents like carrots. Lee, on the other hand, rises above the banality of the story lớn deliver a layered turnthat makes Deok-ki’s love for Seol-rang feel genuine, despite his duplicitous behavior in all other respects. Deok-ki’s nguồn struggle with Jon-bak, culminating in a grisly scene, is limned by Lee with cool,blood-curdling sadism. With her peachy complexion và pageboy looks, Kim has become the “it” girl of the Korean film industry since her bold performances in the Lolita drama “Eun-gyo” và mother-complex gangster pic“Coin Locker Girl.” Here, she again remains undaunted in the presence of superstars, demonstrating impressive range in action, light comedy & heavy melodrama.

There’s no question that the ravishing widescreen images byveteran lenser Kim Byung-seo (“Cold Eyes,” “Castaway on the Moon”) and the exquisite sets by production designer Han A-rum representthe pic’s biggest selling points. Even so, the exaggerated artifice of the seasonal tableaux of sunflower patches, dandelion fields, rainswept pavillions and snow-covered grounds situate them in a graphic dimension of their own, isolated from the main plot. And for all the meticulous re-creations of period architecture, from Deok-ki’s magnificent estate lớn Seol-rang’s Arab-influenced salon,there’s too much dawdling on decorative details, especially scenes devoted to brewing và sipping tea.

Action setpieces, though exceedingly lavish, are a throwback to ’90s Hong Kong wire stunts. The swordplay is sometimes fanciful và eye-catching, as when Hong-yi gets training from Seol-rang’s master (Lee Kyoung-young), but group combat sequences are downright sloppy. Overall, the kích hoạt choreography fails lớn draw a line between period authenticity and pure fantasy, so characters levitate into the clouds as if endowed with magical powers one moment, then become vulnerably mortal in the next. The profusion of slow-motion & freeze-framewill give some viewers a headache. Other tech credits are uniformly first-rate.

Film Review: ‘Memories of the Sword’

Reviewed at Lotte Cinema, Busan, Aug. 14, 2015. Running time: 121 MIN. (Original title: "Hyubnyeo: Kal ui ki-eok")

Production:(South Korea) A Lotte Entertainment (in South Korea)/Well Go USA Entertainment (in U.S.) release of a Lotte Entertainment, TPS Co. Presentation of a TPS Co. Production. (International sales: Lotte Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Lee Dae-hee, Kim Hyun-chul. Executive producer, phụ vương Won-chun.Crew:Directed by Park Heung-sik. Screenplay, Choi A-reum, Park. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Kim Byung-seo; editor, Oh Myung-jun; music, Mowg; production designer, Han A-rum; (Dolby Digital), Bluecap; supervising sound editor, Kim Seok-yoon; visual effects supervisor, Yi Eung-gyu, Park Ung-soo.With:Jeon Do-yeon, Lee Byung-hun, Kim Go-eun, Lee Jun-ho, Kim Tae-woo, Lee Kyoung-young, Bae Soo-bin, Abujamous Ahmad, Moon Sung-geun. (Korean, Arabic dialogue)