By Lee Hyo-won
After rising to stardom with the sleeper hit "The King and the Clown
", Lee Joon-ik
rolled out the big guns in the Vietnam War romance "Sunny"
. Creating an action-packed period piece seems to be the natural course in his evolution as a director.
With a star cast and crew, and impressive production values, "Blades of Blood
" offers exactly what a big budget film by such a name should. There is plenty of blood alright, but the movie stays well within the safety lines, bordering on the classic and predictable.
The passing shadows of the cloud give light to some flashes of brilliance (the film's original Korean title is "Like the Moon That Escaped the Clouds") ― but "Blades" is nowhere near as visionary as "The King and the Clown
", which pushed the boundaries of storytelling in the historical genre.
On the verge of the 16th-century Japanese invasion, the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) is thrown into political and social chaos. The film throws up a lot of the laughs by featuring an irritable, and rather vapid, King Seonjo, and two opposing bicameral parties that are more concerned with gaining his favor than finding solutions: "The Japanese are coming, please round up the army", beseeches one group to the king, while the other group says nay just for the sake of disagreeing ― "Are they really not coming?" asks one official, to which another responds, "How should I know? Since they said the Japanese are coming, we should just say they aren't".
Those dreaming of building a better world try to fight the foreign forces by forming their own political party, Daedonggye, but are forced to disband after being framed for treason.
Lee Mong-hak (Cha Seung-won
), a descendent of the royal family, assumes leadership of the group and organizes a large-scale coup. Fueled by his ambition to claim the crown, he does not hesitate to ruthlessly kill friends and colleagues that get in his way.
As a sword-swinging rebellion grips the nation, Lee's old friend, an uncanny blind swordsman named Hwang Jeong-hak (Hwang Jung-min
), sets out to stop the bloody ordeal. Meanwhile, Gyeon-ja, a vengeful young man who lost his family to Lee's coup (Baek Sung-hyun
), and Baek-ji, a beautiful "gisaeng" whose heart was broken by Lee (Han Ji-hye
plays the role of the concubine entertainer), join Jeong-hak to track down the notorious rebel.
The conflict between the friends-turned-foes ― Lee and Hwang ― propels the initial conflict, but the story is essentially about Gyeon-ja growing up during a time of turbulence.
"Blades" has all the conventions of a coming-of-age road movie, complete with a blooming "bromance" between Gyeon-ja and the elder Hwang, and a touch of romance between Gyeon-ja and Baek-ji.
Gyeon-ja must first overcome his minority complex of having been born to a lowly concubine, and being unable to call his nobleman father dad. Yet, he knows his father truly loved him, and he finds a reason to channel his rebellion. This is where Hwang comes into the picture. Though he is more than adept in duels, Hwang finds a use in Gyeon-ja ― like a guide dog for the visually impaired ― in tracking down Lee. The unlikely duo provides much of the comedy and drama as they bicker and bond.
Baek-ji, on the other hand, as the sole lady in the picture, sets out to find her lover. Like the heroines in the director's other movies, she attempts to be different, but remains nothing more than a pretty flower in the background. Lee, the most elusive of all the characters, embodies more style than substance in his impeccable white "hanbok", which serves the dramatic purpose of being the canvas for bloodshed.
Expect to be entertained, with plenty of blade-whipping action and some ticklish poetic dialogue seemingly fit for a period drama, but nothing groundbreaking.
In theaters April 29. Distributed by SK Telecom.