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'Evil Lake' another historical folly

2003/11/26 Source

There is a corner of the local film industry that keeps churning out historical adventures even though they keep flopping at the box office. Indeed, watching Korean historical adventures like "Bicheonmu" (2000), "The Legend of Gingko" (2000) and "Sword in the Moon" (2003) was like witnessing the evolution of boredom.
Another "legend" will join the rank this Friday, this time "The Legend Of Evil Lake" (Korean title: "Cheonnyeonho"), which sinks to another level by combining two old stereotypes about Korean cinema ("Historical adventures are bad" and "Jung Joon-ho films are bad") into one frightening Jung Joon-ho historical adventure.

Those with a youthful spirit may arm themselves with an ironic attitude to enjoy the sheer spectacle of bad pop culture, but for the rest of us, the film is a chore to watch.

In the film, Silla founder Bak Hyeokkeose annihilates a rival tribe and seals grumpy chieftain Auta in a lake with a sword. Fast-forward about a thousand years to the waning years of Silla (hence the Korean title of the film, which means something like "1,000-Year-Old Lake") when the kingdom is besieged by enemies on all sides. Silla is protected by the strutting heroics of General Biharang (Jung Joon-ho), and Queen Jinseong (Kim Hye-ri) is smitten by his smooth charisma. However, General Biharang prefers the bathing-under-a-waterfall style of Jaunbi (Kim Hyo-jin) and avoids the meaningful glances of the aging monarch.

Up to this point, the film is marked by fight scenes that look to be little more than grunting and posturing except for some violent moments reminiscent of a Monty Python skit like heads getting lopped off, limbs flying astray and blood spewing like a fountain. When the action stops, the actors start to drone their lines slowly and painfully.

To provide a little oomph, Auta the grumpy chieftain emerges from his lake and possesses Jaunbi to take revenge on Silla and complicate the love triangle. Naturally, more battles will be required to figure out the whole mess and escort the viewer to a trite tragedy.

What it all adds up to is a silly story with lifeless characters. The downfall of Korean historical adventures is no longer the lack of adequate technology or big budgets, but the inability to tell a smart story that weaves fantasy, romance and adventure with history.

"The Legend Of Evil Lake" was shot in China to bestow a magnificent backdrop of natural landscapes. The special effects that frantically embellish the film are skilled enough. Yet, the fight scenes muddle on in a dramatic void, the plot has no glimmer of intelligence, and the melodrama makes the viewer burst out laughing.

When will Korea finally be able to produce a marvelous historical adventure in the tradition of Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" or Zhang Yimou's "Hero"? If "The Legend Of Evil Lake" is any indication, we may have to wait about a thousand years.

By Kim Jin

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