Starring Jang Hyuk, Hyeon-soo Kim, Joe Taslim, Jeong Man-sik, Lee Na-kyeong, and Lee Min-hyuk, with a special appearance by Jang Hyun-sung
Written and directed by Choi Jae-Hoon
Unrated but contains scenes of violence
Runtime: 100 minutes
Available on digital, DVD and Blu-ray
You can count me in for the South Korean invasion, if last year's Parasite and now The Swordsman is any indication of what's to come. The new film from first time writer/director Jae-Hoon Choi is so cool, stylish and touching, not to mention being educational. Apparently, it's based on the true historical events, so there's that.
This period action movie takes place during the troubled period of the transition from the Ming to the Qing dynasty. Tae-yul (Jang Hyuk) may be the best swordsman in the village of Joseon but he failed to prevent the overthrow of King Gwanghaegun (Jang Hyun-sung) and was severely injured during the swordfight. Forced to retreat, he spends the rest of his life slowly going blind and living in the mountainside with his daughter Tae-ok (Hyeon-soo Kim).
But wait... the story doesn't end there. He is forced into action once more and this time the stakes are higher. Tae-ok convinced him to return to Joseon to seek out a remedy for his impending loss of sight, but once there, they find themselves in the middle of political strife. A gang of slave trading murderers - led by Gurutai (Joe Taslim) from the Qing royal family - has taken over the town. When they kidnap Tae-ok, Tae-yul has no choice but to fight to get her back.
Now listen, I'll be honest: when it comes to movies about swordfighting, my first thoughts go to the great ninja movies of Sho Kosugi or Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, historical epics like Braveheart, Troy, and Gladiator, beautiful wire fu fun flicks like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the Mexican gay blade Zorro in all his many incarnations (but especially the Antonio Banderas double feature), medieval tales of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table like Excalibur, and even comic book-ish fantasies like Conan the Barbarian and Beastmaster. Perhaps my last thought would take me to Korea.
This changes that.
The Swordsman is a gritty tale with some of the best swordfighting sequences I've ever seen, and there are several. Moreover, it's a beautiful story that depicts a man of honour raising a child well and by himself. It's also beautifully told with some lovely cinematography by Won-ho Son. Check out the trailer on YouTube and you'll see what I mean. How can you go wrong with a blind swordfighter taking on the brutal hordes? You can't. Swordsman wins.As a side note, it also reminded me of Blind Fury with Rutger Hauer. For that, I'm also grateful. Thanks Choi!