Actors: Lee Byung-hun, Jeon Do-yeon, Kim Go-eun
Director: Park Heung-sik
Format: Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, THX, Widescreen
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Well Go USA
Release Date: January 5, 2016
Run Time: 121 minutes
Martial arts films tend to contain many of the same narratives, simply retold with different characters and choreography, not unlike the genre’s gun-slinging Western counterpart. This can work as a double-edged sword for these films, providing familiarity and common themes for audiences to latch onto while also running the risk of blending in with countless others of the same nature. Memories of the Sword certainly has all of the familiar elements of a martial arts classic; a betrayal that must be avenged, a corrupt leader, and a young protégé trained to defeat injustice. Unfortunately, little amidst this familiarity is original enough to stand out, and the viewing experience itself is a bit too disjointed to provide the escapism of entertainment.
Despite falling into an extremely familiar and predictable narrative by the second act of the film, Memories of the Sword opens with a sequence which demands far too much attention from its audience. When a corrupt Monarchy threatens to destroy the Goryeo Dynasty, three warriors band together to stop them until a betrayal occurs amongst the revolutionaries. A child is then raised and trained for decades by Seol-rang (Do-yeon Jeon), all for the purpose of revenge against the warrior who betrayed them. This man is Deok-gi (Byung-hun Lee), whose power has increased over years of corruption and deception.
This early set-up sequence is intentionally confusing, leaving key pieces of information out in order to provide a twist in the narrative later on, once we have jumped forward in time. After 18 years of training Seol-hee (Go-eun Kim) for her revenge against the betrayal, Seol-rang reveals a secret about that day that involves her young protégé, setting in motion plans for retribution. Seol-hee goes through the typical hero’s journey leading up to the expected showdown, all of which ends up being far more underwhelming after enduring countless scenes of teary melodrama between the characters.
Although Memories of the Sword is a Korean film, it resembles numerous better sword-fighting martial arts movies to come from
, with an obvious comparison
being made to Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon due to the characters’ ability to soar through the air and balance
on the branches of trees as they sway. This is not to say that Memories of the Sword is a bad film, but
it certainly isn’t likely to stay in my memory for long. The visuals are
sweeping and epic, which may make the high definition of Blu-ray worthwhile for
those who enjoy the elaborate production values of the genre, though this is
all the disc has to offer without any special features to mention. China
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 5/10