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The Swordsman

Opening Date
15 Oct 2020
NC16 Violence
101 mins
Korean with English & Chinese subtitles
Jae-Hoon Choi
Hyuk Jang, Joe Taslim, Man-sik Jeong, Jin-ho Choi
After the fall of King Gwanghae, Joseon’s greatest swordsman and royal guard Tae-yul (JANG Hyuk) is forced into hiding. In the meantime, Joseon is caught between Qing and Ming dynasties’ conflict, and is at the mercy of Qing’s envoy and slave trader Kurutai’s (Joe TASLIM) ridiculous demands. As general populace suffering deepens, Tae-yul’s daughter is taken away as a tribute to Qing and although he wanted to live his remaining days in solace, Tae-yul has no choice but to unsheathe his sword and face the Qing foes in order to bring his daughter back…
By Christy  15 Oct 2020
The Swordsman is first and foremost an action film, but it inserts some moments of humour and joy.
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The Joseon dynasty is no strange occurrence in Korean film industry. It often features both action and political issues surrounding the main characters. This goes for The Swordsman as well, starring Jang Hyuk and Joe Taslim. The Swordsman tells a story about Tae-yul, a retired Joseon swordsman living with his daughter, Tae-ok, in secluded mountain areas. When Tae-ok became determined to seek treatment for her father’s failing eyesight, she went to great lengths until she was kidnapped by Gurutai, a master of slave prisoners of the war. Tae-yul set his mind to get his daughter back at all costs.
The Swordsman was an enjoyable movie. Having said that, I personally prefer movies with characters harbouring dark pasts explaining their present demeanours because they often produce unexpected plot twists. The plot of The Swordsman is rather predictable, especially if you watch a lot of Korean period films and dramas. Fortunately, the performance of the star-studded cast and audio-visual team make up for the otherwise slow development.
Jang Hyuk and Joe Taslim’s performance takes the prize home. It is impeccable how Jang Hyuk managed to convey a range of emotions while he remained expressionless. The blindness act progressing complexity was also satisfying to watch when his eyesight deteriorated as the story unfolds. Meanwhile, Joe Taslim’s antagonistic acting imparted intelligent conduct and calm expressions, sparking uneasiness because they were inconsistent to his gruesome and ruthless behaviour. Additionally, he embraced the act of a bilingual slavery master in a believable way which didn’t break the tension of the movie.
Close-up shots and constant movement of camerawork emphasise the characters’ emotions and restlessness, as if we were in their shoes. Tae-yul’s visual impairment furthermore brings forth a unique point of view for the audience. His first-person shots were low saturated and blurry, giving us a glimpse of his perspectives. They became worse throughout the movie, signifying his worsening condition and raising concerns for the viewers.
Even if dialogues are scarce, the timely placement of music and silence, coupled with a fair share of vulgar and explicit scenes displayed, heightens the intensity altogether keeping you on the edge of your seats in anticipation for what’s next. The director, Choi Jae-hoon, didn’t shy away from the blood and gore galore, locking your eyes on the screen from one cut to another. Not to worry though, it isn’t too far off that the fainthearted can’t appreciate.
The Swordsman is first and foremost an action film, but it inserts some moments of humour and joy. Other aspects of the movie also compensate for the lack of plot complexity, ensuring the viewers on their toes. Without them, the movie may be subpar, but it managed to rise in spite of the odds.
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