Blades of Blood 구르믈 버서난 달처럼
Costume action drama
2010, colour, 2.35:1, 107 mins
Directed by Lee Joon-ik (이준익 | 李濬益)
By Derek Elley
Sat, 29 May 2010, 21:34 PM (HKT)
Strong characters and vividly staged action make this a cut above most Korean swordplay dramas. Some theatrical potential outside Asia, prior to ancillary.
Korea, 1590s. Despite the impending threat of Japanese invasion, the suspicious King Seonjo (Kim Chang-wan) orders Lee Mong-hak (Cha Seung-won) to dissolve the Grand Alliance he forged with fellow swordsman Hwang Jeong-hak (Hwang Jeong-min) to create a better, more equal world. After his friend Jeong Yeo-rib (Im Jae-yun) is executed by the increasingly ambitious Lee, the blind Hwang sets out to take revenge. He's joined by Han Gyeon-ja (Baek Seong-hyeon), the dispossessed son of a concubine, who is looking to avenge his father's murder. On the road, Han dallies with gisaeng Baek-ji, who is Lee's longtime lover but who ends up joining Han and Hwang. Meanwhile, 15,000 Japanese troops invade the country from the south and head towards Seoul.
LEE Joon-ik 이준익 | 李濬益's movies have gradually developed more technical assurance since his first big hit, the stodgily directed King and the Clown 왕의 남자 (2005), and he brings this new narrative fluency, as well as an engaging mixture of drama and fun, to Blades of Blood 구르믈 버서난 달처럼 (2010), his first costume film since Once Upon a Time in a Battlefield 황산벌 (2003). Blades has way less humour than Battlefield but it is sustained by a terrific serio-comic performance from HWANG Jeong-min 황정민 | 黃晸玟 in the lead. Hwang has made a career from playing either tough or weathered types (Bloody Tie 사생결단 (2006), You are My Sunshine 너는 내 운명 (2005)), and the role of raggedy blind swordsman Hwang Jeong-hak, with revenge on his mind and an annoying young disciple to teach, combines both aspects of his screen personality into one succulent role. The script was actually written with the actor in mind.
As Hwang's nemesis, CHA Seung-won 차승원 | 車勝元 — memorable as the villain in police thriller Eye for an Eye 눈에는 눈 이에는 이 (2007) — is suitably cool and ambitious but is largely in a different movie, as he and Hwang don't meet until the end. Instead, the relationship that drives the film is that between Hwang and his disciple Gyeon-ja, engagingly played by relative newcomer BAEK Seong-hyeon 백성현 (Our School's E.T. 울학교 이티 (2008)) who develops an easy on-screen chemistry with Hwang.
Though Lee tried to answer criticism that he can't write female roles with his previous film, Sunny 님은 먼곳에 (2008), the same weakness stalks Blades: though played with some spirit, HAN Ji-hye 한지혜's gisaeng is not much more than a plot contrivance to give this very masculine film some feminine relief.
Unlike the Chinese or Japanese, South Korean filmmakers just don't have it in their DNA to translate swordplay manga to the big screen. But Blades is among the few movies that manages to combine drama and swordplay into a package that doesn't embarrass either genre. For a start, the script (adapted from a three-volume '90s manga by PARK Heung-yong 박흥용) is good clean storytelling which doesn't require a history doctorate to decipher, and the swordplay/fighting doesn't try to ape Chinese or Japanese models by resorting to elaborate visual effects. Instead of trying to replicate the original manga's "frozen-motion" style, the film creates its own, which is actually better reflected by the film's grittier English title than the original, more poetic Korean (Like the Moon Escaping from the Clouds): the action is staged in a lively, very physical way that directly reflects the characters involved, and is shot handheld in a way that increases their physical punch. Helping the movie along is a fine orchestral score by KIM Su-cheol 김수철 and KIM Jun-seok 김준석 that complements JEONG Jeong-hun 정정훈's widescreen photography in all its moods.
ContactSales: M-Line Distribution, Seoul (email@example.com)
Theatrical release: South Korea, 28 Apr. 2010.
Presented by SK Telecom (SK), in association with Benex Digital Cultural Contents Fund, Stonebridge Capital. Production: Achim Pictures (SK), Tiger Pictures (SK). Executive producers: Seol Won-heui, Seo Seong-won, Park Gi-won. Producers: Jo Cheol-hyeon, Lee Jeong-se.
Script: Jo Cheol-hyeon, Oh Seung-hyeon, Choi Seok-hwan. Original manga: Park Heung-yong (Like the Moon Escaping from the Clouds). Photography: Jeong Jeong-hun. Editing: Kim Sang-beom, Kim Jae-beom. Music: Kim Su-cheol, Kim Jun-seok. Additional music: Shin Min-seob, Kim Baek-chan, Kim Hye-min, Ju In-ro, Jo Yeong-il, Lee Won-seok. Production design: Gang Seung-yong (History D&P). Set design: Lee Bok-reom. Costume design: Jo Yeong-seok. Sound: Im Hyeong-geun, Choi Tae-yeong (Live Tone). Action: Oh Se-yeong (Triple-A). Visual effects: Gang Jong-ik, Son Seung-hyeon (In Sight Visual).
Cast: Hwang Jeong-min (Hwang Jeong-hak), Cha Seung-won (Lee Mong-hak), Han Ji-hye (Baek-ji), Baek Seong-hyeon (Han Gyeon-ja), Kim Chang-wan (King Seonjo), Song Yeong-chang (Han Shin-gyun), Jeong Gyu-su (bangjja maker), Shin Jeong-geun (His Excellency Yu), Ryu Seung-ryeong (His Excellency Jeong), Lee Hae-yeong (Han Pil-ju), Yang Yeong-jo (Lee Jang-gak), Park Yun-ho (An Bong-seok, Lee Mong-hak's deputy), Lee Yeong-seok (Eunuch Kim), Kim Bo-yeong (gisaeng madam), Kim Sang-ho (Park Dol-seok), Yeom Dong-heon (His Excellency Park), Lee Dal-hyeon (His Excellency Song), Choi Yong-hyeon (His Excellency Choi), Park Yong-beom (His Excellency Jo), Lee Chang-ik (His Excellency Lee), Jeong Min-seong (Hwang Yun-gil), Park Jin-wu (Kim Seong-il), Lee Jae-gu (Lord Choi), Jeon Dae-byeong (Im Cheol-min), Kim Ji-eun (Cho-hyang), Im Jae-yun (Jeong Yeo-rib), Yang Myeong-heon, Kim Min-su, Jeong Je-heon, Kim Min-seung (Han Gyeon-ja's followers), Song Chang-gon, Yun Yeong-geol (Officials), Kim Sang-yong, Seo Seung-won, Shin Yeong-hun, Kim Byeong-oh (executioners).