When director Kim Young-jun, whose "Shadowless Sword" hits movie theaters Friday, said he was going to make a breakthrough in Korean martial arts movies, his chances of failure were good. But as easily digestible commercial fare, the film delivers.
The year is 962 A.D. in the Balhae kingdom ravaged by the invasion of Khitan -- Tungusic or Mongol residents of the southern part of what is now Manchuria, Northeastern China.
In a country almost wiped off the face of the earth, the last survivor of the dynasty, Dae Jeong-hyeon (Lee Seo-jin), ekes out a meager existence in a frontier town while hiding his true identity. Then those who dream of restoring the Balhae kingdom order the greatest woman warrior Yeon So-ha (Yun Soy) to bring prince Jeong-hyeon back, but those on Khitan's side -- Gun Hwa-pyeong (Shin Hyun-joon) and his confidant Mae Yeoung-ok (Lee Ki-yong) -- are hot in pursuit, looking to take his life.
The action scenes in "Shadowless Sword" thoroughly ignore the laws of gravity, featuring 100 m dashes in the blink of an eye, walking on water and flights across roofs and through midair. The wire stunts are frankly a rehash of what the Chinese formula has been providing for decades, but that, after all, is the biggest pleasure the genre has to offer.
"Shadowless Sword" focuses on the showdown between Yun Soy and Lee Ki-yong rather than the confrontation between Lee Seo-jin and Shin Hyun-joon, staking the film¡¯s success largely on action stunts of beautiful women. The visuals, to be fair, can be stunning.
The final confrontation is also quite stunning as the protagonists cross swords while a purple cloth billows across the screen, although the director appears to have borrowed the idea from Zhang Yimou¡¯s ¡°Lovers.¡±
However, one of the drawbacks of ¡°Shadowless Sword¡± is its failure to breathe life into its characters. Shin Hyun-joon remains unswervingly heroic throughout and Yun Soy appears completely bereft of personal emotions, with each plainly representing the opposing values of "good" and "evil." Lee Seo-jin plays the only dynamic character but also fails to convince with his portrayal of the prince masquerading as a pauper who goes on to rebuild his country.