By Philip Dorsey Iglauer
Good girls seem to always fall for bad boys. But in the case of "Duelist", which is expected to make a stylish splash in theaters everywhere, Choson Kingdom policewomen seem to fall for the bedroom charms of hired assassins dressed in black.
"Duelist" is a martial arts detective story set during Korea's Choson Kingdom (1392-1910). Ha Ji-won
has taken her experience playing Choson Kingdom lady detective Chae-ok in the local TV drama "Damo" to the big screen by playing the film's protagonist Nam-sun, the Choson era's equivalent to any police squad's action-oriented tough guy _ or gal, as it is in Lee Myung-se
's latest "style for the sake of style" cop drama.
Lee earned international renown with "Nowhere To Hide" (1999), starring Park Joong-hoon
and Ahn Sung-ki
Lee understood that style can only supplement character development, and cannot replace it, and created with co-screenplay writer Lee Hae-jyeong a gallery of comic book-like characters. Nam-sun and Ahn Sung-ki
's character with their team of Choson period detectives are investigating a racket counterfeiting the coinage of the day.
Nam-sun, both in her role as the good cop and for reasons of the heart, chases the angelic droopy-eyed hired swordsman Sad Eyes (Gang Dong-won
) all over a massive 33,000-square-meter outdoor set that director Lee had Seoul Studio Complex construct in Namyangju, Kyonggi Province.
They face off mano-a-mano time and again, building their romance as Nam-sun comes to realize that he is the hired sword of a counterfeiting mastermind, the Minister of Defense, who has evil designs on the Kingdom.
The big budget set was a brilliant investment. The set lent itself to successfully overcoming the cinematic blandness that usually is the mark of many a low-budget Korean period film. And it works.
The traditional Chosen Kingdom market is where most of the action in the movie occurs and creates a truly unique look.
Lee is joining Chinese filmmaker Chen Kaige with his The Promise
, the most expensive mainland movie ever made, to be released this December, and Zhang Yimou, the Hong Kong director of "House of Flying Daggers (Shi Mian Mai Fu)", by directing a period martial arts movie to capture overseas audiences.
The beautiful cinematography of Hwang Ki S in building the story's romance is further evidence of the film's international prospects. Hwang employed "motion" as a way to build tension between and the two action heroes on the opposites sides of the law, and as a novel plot device to the "love that cannot be". The lead actors were required to perform most of their own stunts, and extensive training and prep work for the action scenes.
Lee studied film at the Seoul Institute of the Arts and worked as an assistant director under Bae Chang-ho
on "Deep Blue Night" (1984) and "Our Sweet Days of Youth" (1988). He debuted with "Gagman" in 1988, a story about a stand up comic who lives in a fantasy world.