Sword with No Name released

Tuesday, 21 September 2010 07:23

“The Sword With No Name” is an historical epic set in 19th Century Korea, during the Joseon Dynasty. The movie is an adaptation of the controversial life of Empress Myeongseong, with layers of forbidden romance, action-packed sword fighting, dark political and imperial intrigue, and military confrontation. It comes from director Kim Yong-gyun (“The Red Shoes”).

Su-Ae stars as Min Ja-Young, a young lady of noble birth who is selected to become Korea’s next Queen. Prior to her marriage to the King, Ja-Young encounters a humble fisherman called Moo-myoung (Cho Seung-Woo) who agrees to ferry her up the river to see the sea. En-route, the pair are attached by ninjas and Moo-myoung deftly saves her from certain death. This event establishes that neither person is what they seem.

The Sword With No Name out on DVD and Blu-rayThe fisherman is actually a bounty hunter; he falls in love with the lady and promises to protect her. It is not long before he learns of another planned attempt on her life, and once more comes to her rescue by kidnapping her, an act that causes a substantial amount of anger and suspicion within the royal court, despite her safe return. The head of the palace guard  (Choi Jae-Woong) is dispatched to handle the situation; after entering into a spectacular sword fight with Mu-myoung on a couple of tiny boats, he spares our hero’s life because of his deeds but warns him never to see Ja-Young ever again.

Once Ja-Young ascends to the throne, events take a turn for the worse. It seems that the King (Kim Young-Min) does not love her, his manipulative father (Cheon Ho-Jin) disapproves of her serenades to Western dignitaries, and Japanese spies are trying to undermine the establishment. As the Queen makes pacts with Russia, the Japanese retaliate with further assassination attempts. Moo-myoung manages to get a job as a palace guard, and once inside he continues to do his utmost to protect the Queen. However, the future looks bleak for the pair as everyone seems to be siding against them.

This movie has it all. It looks fantastic, especially the scenes set in beautiful countryside and on a sparkling beach. The palace costumes are splendid, featuring lavish, shimmering silks and other richly colourful fabrics. The sets are equally detailed and wonderful to look at. The accompanying orchestral music is excellent, and the sweeping, emotive score features a catchy motif similar to the one in “Braveheart”.

These qualities would not amount to much if the story and characters were bland, and thankfully they are anything but. The forbidden love story is brilliantly woven into the wider context of devious political maneuverings and an imperial power struggle. The characters are simply but clearly defined, and universally decent acting lends them life and weight. There is plenty of light and shade as the tale progresses, including some light comedic touches such as when Mu-myoung is asked to try out a prototype bullet-proof vest in order to get his job as a palace guard. These moments give us some relief from the sadder and darker scenes.

The movie is quite conservative with its action sequences, but when they arrive they are energetic, stylish and often brutal. One of two of them are not exactly authentic, such as the aforementioned boat fight and one inside the palace that bizarrely takes a dream-like jump to a misty, frozen lake. They require a suspension of belief on the part of the audience but it works, and the remaining battles are more grounded and realistic. Sparks fly as razor-sharp blades clash, and nerves jangle as the threat of certain death accompanies each precise sword stroke.

My only criticism of the DVD version of the feature is that some of the darker scenes have poor levels of contrast, making it difficult to pick out key details. Fortunately the majority of the film is set during the day and lit more effectively.

There are a few special features on the disc but they are quite disappointing: a so-called “making of”, which is actually 10 minutes of rough behind the scenes clips with no narration, a further 10 minutes of interviews with the two leads which are equally unpolished, and some trailers for this and other films in the Cine Asia range. Not great, but better than nothing!

“The Sword With No Name” (2009) is out now DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Cine Asia. The running time of the main feature is 120 minutes approx, certificate ‘15’ and the movie retails for £17.99 on DVD and £24.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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