Memories of the Sword has two, very simple problems. The first is director Park. He’s bad at directing this film. It’s not clear he’s bad at directing films, but he’s bad at directing Memories of the Sword. He fundamentally doesn’t understand action scenes, which means he doesn’t understand how to do the first act of the film. Given Park co-wrote the film, there’s a fundamental disconnect. None of his instincts are right on Sword.
Except maybe trusting Lee Byung-hun so much. Lee is a great villain. He goes from being a somewhat lame villain to being a great one. He even overshadows Jeon Do-yeon as his Juliet, which is surprising because whenever Jeon is around I wish Sword were actually a female, Korean version of Zatoichi. Oh, right. Jeon’s blind. Because tragedy.
Memories of the Sword is bloated melodrama. Park and co-writer Choi Ah-reum go for the jugular every time, usually because Park thinks he can get away with cheapness by cutting from the action. He has way too much confidence in editor Oh Myoung-jun, who can’t make these transitions work. Because Oh’s not particularly good editor and Memories often has dumb stylistic choices. The movie runs two hours but only because every other shot in the last fifteen minutes is in slow motion.
But there’s only one tragedy to Memories of the Sword. Ostensible lead Kim Go-eun. Lee and Jeon shouldn’t be the focus, Lee shouldn’t be the main character. Except Park is incompetent and Memories of the Sword goes from being a movie about a girl raised to avenge her parents finally getting to avenge her parents–with martial arts and sword-fighting–to this soap opera for Lee. Political intrigue and occasional fist fights. The film abandons Kim by the second half and she’s supposed to be the protagonist. She’s supposed to be the hero.
It’s impossible to gauge Kim’s performance. The script’s so bad. She does okay. She makes it through the film. Though it’s no one’s fault except Park’s. He can’t make this movie; except somehow the albatross moves. Lee’s story should be tedious. It’s not. It’s not interesting, but it’s not tedious. Because Lee does a good job. He’s what gets Memories of the Sword to the finish line.
Nice photography from Kim Byung-seo. Mowg’s music is saccharine but completely appropriate.
The film’s a bumpy ride; it starts better than it finishes, but it finishes better than it could have. Even with all the lame slow motion.
Directed by Park Heung-sik; written by Park and Choi Ah-reum; director of photography, Kim Byung-seo; edited by Oh Myoung-jun; music by Mowg; production designer, Han Ah-reum; produced by Kim Hyun-chol; released by Lotte Entertainment.
Starring Lee Byung-hun (Yoo-baek), Jeon Do-yeon (Wallso), Kim Go-eun (Hong-ee), Lee Jun-Ho (Yull), Kim Tae-woo (Jon-bok), Bae Soo-bin (Poong-chun) and Lee Kyeong-yeong (Teacher).