Memories of the Sword (2015) Review
Director: Park Heung-sik
Cast: Lee Byung-hun (Deok-gi/Yoo-baek), Jeon Do-yeon (Seol-rang/Wallso), Kim Go-eun (Hong Yi), Lee Junho (Yull), Lee Geung-young (Teacher)
In the past, I have seen quite a few South Korean martial arts movies. So far, however, I always found them to be missing something when compared to those coming from China. This, despite my love for the countries action thrillers. For example Fighter in the Wind had an inconsistent pace, while City of Violence lacked any semblance of plot and The Legend of the Shadowless Sword felt like a poor man’s Shaw Brothers movie (at least in my opinion). However, Memories of the Sword--I’m thankful to say--is about as close to perfect I’ve seen for a Korean martial arts movie; though, comparisons to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are imminent.
For example, much like Crouching Tiger, this film is as much of a romance as it is a martial arts film--not to mention, the hyper stylized fight scenes. This romance becomes apparent in the opening scene when the protagonist sneaks into a tournament and has a sparring match with her future love interest. She disguises herself as a man and competes without the knowledge of her adopted mother. Meanwhile, the court official holding the tournament witnesses the fight and realizes the protagonist was trained by a former lover (who he once betrayed). This ultimately sets off the plot.
This briefly described plot has a very Shakespearean quality to it. And that plot is the main reason why I like this movie so much. Basically, this film is extremely well written and has some really well done dialog. Though, admittedly, the best thing is in the way the movie handles its villain. He may actually be the most well-developed villain I’ve seen in this type of movie. His motives are explained through a series of flashbacks, and even though he does some nasty stuff towards the end, it’s hard not to care about him. Also of note is the young romance that begins to blossom. It has this very awkward quality early on (a trait which I feel heightens the realism a bit). If anything, the only drawback is that it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between the current story and the flashbacks (when there are a quite a few).
Additionally, the cinematography needs to be singled out. This film is beautifully shot and it possesses some extremely well done use of slow motion. This serves the romantic themes well; however, the fight scenes don’t seem to film as well as the dramatic ones (especially early on). But that’s nothing major. I loved this movie and consider it the best martial arts movie I’ve seen in a while.