Blades of Blood (2010, directed by Lee Joon-ik) fulfills its promise of masterfully swordplay action in this history epic but it also leaves a lot to be desired. Albeit entertaining, the film seemed to favour momentary encounters at the expense of character development and contextualisation.
The Story and Characters
The movie is based on a popular Korean manga and is set in the 16th century during the Chosun dynasty. Japanese forces are preparing an invasion from the South and inter-Korean political factions are indecisive and in opposition. Unable to become united before the Japanese are upon them, a revolutionary force called the "Grand Alliance" makes its play for conquest and power under the leadership of Lee Mong-hak (Cha Seung-won), a skilled swordsmen with the dream of become king himself.
Mong-hak's friend, the legendary blind swordsman, Hwang (Hwang Jeong-min) opposes him after Mong-hak decimates the noble Han family in service of his revolt. In the aftermath of this slaughter, Hwang takes in the serious injured Gyeon-ja (Baek Seong-hyeon) and, with his acupuncture skills nurses him back to health.
Gyeon-ja is the bastard son of the Han family and, having witnesses his father death at the hands of Mong-hak, now seeks revenge. Without any sword skills or goal in life, Gyeon-ja is ill equipped for an encounter with the revolutions adept and driven leader. He accompanies Hwang on his quest to put an end to Mong-hak's self-serving crusade to power. Upon realising Hwang's deadly sword skill, Gyeon-ja begs him to teach him the skill he will surely need to confront Mong-hak. A plea Hwang indirectly accepts and, through a series of comic encounters, helps Gyeon-ja prepare for his eventual showdown with Mong-hak.
Blades of Blood success is centered on Hwang and Gyeon's comical encounters. There are some truly hilarious moments between them but, unfortunately, this is the films only real plus. The kinetic swordplay sequences are what you would expect from this genre but without the necessary character building, the climactic fight scenes lack purpose. Except for Hwang, the character presentation is lacklustre and unpolished. Baek-ji inclusion didn't hold enough weight and our protagonist was pathetically weak for the most part. Mong-hak was a menacing figure but, again, there just wasn't enough substance in his character to warrant praise. "Blades of Blood" was entertaining but as the films climax approached I just didn't believe there was true purpose or momentum in its conclusion.
-Christopher J. Wheeler
*After I watched the film I couldn't help but think that our eventual hero (Gyeon-ja) was just a little too weak throughout the film. Maybe it was the scene when he started crying in frount of Baek-ji that pushed me, but I just don't think he was ever built-up enough. What do you think? Did Gyeon-ja transform enough to became a believable hero in the end?
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