aka 무영검 aka Muyeong geom
Written by Kim Tae-kwan and Sin Joon-hee
Directed by Kim Young-Jun
A stylized action flick overly heavy on outside influences, Shadowless Sword delivers some good wirework action, but not enough heart or story to put it beyond popcorn fare. The fact that Shadowless Sword is a Korean flick does transform some of the usual wuxia tropes into new forms, giving Shadowless Sword a uniqueness, but that’s not enough to satisfy.
A period piece filmed in China, Shadowless Swords gets it story from the ancient Korean kingdom of Balhae and is very very loosely based on reality. Balhae was conquered by the Kitans in 926, and the royal family was killed and the kingdom turned into a puppet state that was eventually absorbed. But the last crown prince Dae Gwang-hyeon escaped with around 300 followers, arriving in Goryeo (the Kingdom from which modern Korea sprang) and causing occasional trouble for the Kitan. From reading up, the actual Dae Guang-hyeon history sounds much more interesting than the story used here. (If you are confused by the Dae Guang-hyeon/Dae Jeong-Hyun being the same person that, welcome to the wonderful world of different translation schemes colliding!)
Shadowless Sword‘s action sequences are heavily invested with wirework, and at times almost too choreographed. You start to notice a pattern and then predict when there will be a cut as the actor flips to suddenly fly in the air. But the choreography not bad, in particular the duel between Yeon So-Ha and Mae Young-Ok in the marketplace is very nice.
There is a heavy emphasis on qigong energy type moves, attacks cause the walls and pillars to explode in ridiculous fashion when people are thrown into them. In physical attack, bodies can explode violently, sometimes much later than the physical attack itself.
This expands with a sort of sword energy mythology – Shadowless Sword tries to include including philosophy of sword debates, can swords become noble or evil, or is it up to the user to decide what the sword is. Can a sword become evil? Where does the morality of killing come from? Another major point is two swords that are brothers, the swords being connected and also the people using the swords are connected
One neat thing is the energy attacks also work underwater, this is the only film I can recall seeing where energy is blasted back and forth underwater causing the energy pushing the water to be used as a weapon (The Last Airbender doesn’t count!) There is also lots and lots of shuriken. At one point bad guys throw like 100s of shuriken into the water likes they are machine guns, which is sort of bad. It crosses into ridiculous territory and takes you out of the film.
Shadowless Sword does borrow a lot of visuals from other films, Crouching Tiger gives us flying rooftop chases, a Korean gang has everyone dressed up like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean (if this is accurate historical costuming, then we’re though a rabbit hole now, people!), the energy stuff sounds like it’s from a billion manga comics, fields of flags see straight from Kurosawa, and the end scene is very recognizable as well. If Shadowless Sword can’t be bothered to be less obvious in what it steals, then I can’t be bothered to care too much.
The invading Khitan’s leader’s personal hit squad The Killer Blade Army is eliminating anyone who stands in the way of the new nation state, including the royal family of the prior one. But Balhae has one last member of the royal family, bitter exiled Prince Dae Jeong-Hyun. He’s got to be put in charge, otherwise the people will get depressed. We can’t have that! Next thing you know they’ll be wanting to vote…
They send their top fighter to go get him, swordswoman extraordinaire Yeon So-Ha. He’s easily located, but doesn’t want to return home. The Killer Blade Army is also hot on the scent, with Mae Young-Ok leading the charge. As Yeon So-Ha is the best of the best of the best for a reason, soon the Killer Blade Army members are filling body bags.
The Prince is still reluctant to return home, but despite attempts to escape, he can’t evade his bodyguard. As they travel together, they learn more about each other, like fear, beliefs, resentments, falling in love, all that stuff that happens in movies when two people of the opposite sex go on long journeys while being pursued by a killer army of crazies.
Killer Blade Army boss Gun Hwa-Pyung comes down personally to make sure things go okay and the Prince is killed (even though he’s been warned not to kill this royal family member so the upstart government can use him to quell uprisings!) Will Prince Dae Jeong-Hyun take his place as the ruler of his people and light their darkest hour? Maybe all these atrocities of the new regime that the Prince sees will make him act. Or going to his dead mom’s grave where an army of loyalists just happen to be hanging out. Granted, this is a Korean flick, so expect almost everyone to die horribly of cancer.
The very final scene, however, is the most pointlessly tacked on garbage I’ve seen in a flick in a while. It looked like the director saw Braveheart while the film was being made, and suddenly had to end his flick the same way! All we needed was Mel Gibson showing up in blue paint screaming about the Jews. I will say that Shadowless Sword is about as historically accurate as Braveheart, so maybe they take place in the same universe…
Despite the two featured female fighter characters, this isn’t really a girl power type movie. Both female characters sacrifice themselves for a man, using up their body in different ways (one more degrading than the other!) The only real equality of the women is on the battlefield, where they can kill most men with ease. But even then, things don’t turn up roses. A waste.
Rated 5/10 (super sword, super annoying, Ancient Korea has those guys who bring guitars to coffee houses too!, not your father’s scarface, pervy king to be)
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