A story of betrayal, revenge, and redemption comes in flashback and present form in this very dramatic swordplay film from director Park Heung-Sik.
Hong-Yi is a young woman with a scar on her back who has been training to become a master swordswoman. She is a protege of Wallseo, a blind tea house manager. One day, she sees a young fighter named Yul win in the local arena. She decides to test her skills against the young upstart and easily defeats him. This attracts the attention of General Yu-Baek, who is determined to move up the ranks but his real nature is soon revealed as is Hong-Yi’s.
Wallseo was once Sul-Rang, one of the Three Great Swords, a trio of superior warriors who attempted to overthrow the government during the days of the Koryo Empire. That was until Deok-Gi was bribed by the king to free his son, the Prince, and as a result, he and his lover Sul-Rang, killed the third Great Sword, Pung-Chun. Deok-Gi had changed his name to Yu-Baek and Sul-Rang, feeling sorrow and eventually losing her eyesight, took Pung-Chun’s daughter Hong-Yi in and trained her for a prophecy once revealed that Hong-Yi would be prepared to take the lives of those who took her father’s. Will Hong-Yi be able to withstand the ruthlessness of Yu-Baek, who seeks the means to take the throne for himself?
This is a fictitious wuxia pian-style drama from director Park Heung-Sik, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Choi Ah-Reum. This is one of those films that meshes flashbacks with the present to get the gist of the entire film. Clearly, if one misses a single second, they may end up lost in all the chaos of the film. In the last half of the film, Park and Choi unveil some very interesting twists to the story that brings it all together in a jaw-dropping way by the film’s climax.
Many fans of Hollywood will know Lee Byung-Hun for his role as Storm Shadow in the G.I. Joe films and recently, playing the new T-1000 in Terminator: Genisys. An established actor in his native South Korea, he returned home to play the film’s central villain, the traitorous Yu-Baek. Lee is truly one of the most versatile actors in Korea with this role being truly one of his best roles yet. He plays Yu-Baek in just one simple word: ruthless. It is clear that Yu-Baek shows absolutely no remorse and is in fact proud of what he has done. As for Jeon Do-Yeon’s character, she truly is remorseful and despite the objections from her master to never let her personal feelings get in the way, she does just that and is in fact in the mentor of our young heroine Hong-Yi, played by Kim Go-Eun with a sense of immaturity at times, but it is expected as she finds herself sometimes at the wrong place and time. However, she does find a pivotal character in Yul, a young swordsman who has aspirations similar to Yu-Baek but is not quite as ruthless as him to get up in the ranks. K-Pop boy bander Lee Jun-Ho from 2PM actually does quite well in the role of the brash youngster here.
The action scenes here are done in a style similar to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There is of course, lots of wirework with the flying swordsmen and swordswomen at times. However, there are quite a few grounded swordfights as well that complement the wuxia-style action here. The climactic fight between Lee and Kim may suffer a bit from an overabundance of wirework and slow-motion. However, it proves pivotal to the story in terms of it being ultimately executed well in a shocking twist that is vital to the film.
Despite a somewhat disappointing finale in terms of using too much slow motion and wirework, Memories of the Sword churns out one of the best performances from Lee Byung-Hun in his most ruthless roles to date.
WFG RATING: B+
Lotte Entertainment presents a TPS Company production. Director: Park Heung-Sik. Producer: Lee Dae-Hee. Writers: Choi Ah-Reum and Park Heung-Sik. Cinematography: Kim Byung-Seo. Editing: Oh Myung-Jin.
Cast: Lee Byung-Hun, Jeon Do-Yeon, Kim Go-Eun, Lee Jun-Ho, Bae Soo-Bin, Kim Tae-Woo.