Duelist (Review)


aka 형사 aka Hyeongsa

Written by Lee Myung-se and Lee Hae-kyeong
Based on the comic by Bang Hak-ki
Directed by Lee Myung-se

Stylish visuals and Ha Ji-won can’t save Duelist from the horrors of mediocrity. They try so hard! But close only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades. Duelist suffers a few too many flaws to for me to recommend it, though I can appreciate the type of film it was trying to be. It’s an anachronistic tale of ancient detectives working against an attempted coup plotted against the Korean king, complete with stylized visuals that will remind you of MTV editing. But it’s actually a film about two people connecting, people on opposite sides of a conflict. And the tragedy that results. This is a Korean film, after all!

As longtime readers (all 3 of you) know, I’m a sucker for crazy visualizations in film. Especially when they’re integrated so well into the film they become indispensable. Parts of Duelist achieve this goal. But other parts do not, the visuals become a distraction at best, and a problem at worst. There are lots of scenes that transition not by normal cuts, but instead by the camera sweeping into the new scene and the old scene becomes the new. That was neat. I wasn’t so keen on the montages that features a lot of scenes fading in and out, but parts never fully fading in, just imprinting on the scene. It seemed more like the film was trying to remind us of what the characters were feeling and thinking about, even though we should know just by virtue of paying attention.

Duelist takes its music queues from throughout the world and throughout time, so European circus tunes and classic Korean music are both used to set whatever mood is needed. Even the noises of crowds cheering are dubbed in despite a lack of such crowds, to make us know that an action is worth our admiration.

The action scenes work well when it’s limited to two combatants, but the larger battle sequences don’t feature the drama and intimacy of the film’s duels (and the intimacy isn’t helped by the larger sequences featuring lots of overhead shots of crowds instead of shots in the battles. Lee Myung-se does his preferred smaller fights with a mix of slow-motion and sped-up choreography, which both shows off the dueling as a loving slow dance, and as a wild and furious clash of emotions. The duels often aren’t about fighting, but have a larger emotional meaning.

Duelist comes from a time when Korean cinema was riding high, atop the world. But that horse was getting tired, and the world is ever-spinning. Bearing that in mind, I still judge Duelist against its contemporary films and the quality of the work that was being released at the time. Duelist does not measure up. Were it released today, it would be regarded as a mini-masterpiece. But in the middle of the shuffle of some of the greatest cinema to come out of the peninsula, Duelist barely registers.

Detective Namsoon (Ha Ji-won) – Rookie detective who is focused on her mission to the point of not thinking of her own safety. Skilled with weapons and headstrong. She also makes the sassy faces that Ha Ji-won is known for. Ha Ji-won’s other films on TarsTarkas.NET include Sex is Zero, Love So Divine, and Sector 7.
Gu Janggon (Kang Dong-won) – The person of interest for the investigation about the coup and the assistant to Minister Song. He acts like so many long haired aloof anime/manga heroes that female characters fall for (this IS based on a comic book!), so of course Detective Namsoon falls for him, and he falls back. But, duty, honor, all that garbage. See Kang Dong-won as non-anime in Too Beautiful To Lie
Detective Ahn (Ahn Sung-gi) – Namsoon’s brash and drunken mentor, is sort of looked down on despite the fact everyone acknowledges he’s a great detective.
Minister Song Pil-joon (Song Young-chang) – A totally not suspicious evil military minister.

Continue reading

Too Beautiful To Lie (Review)

Too Beautiful to Lie

aka Don’t Believe Her! aka Geunyeoreul midji maseyo


Kim Ha-Neul as Joo Young-ju
Kang Dong-won as Choi Hee-chu
Nam Sang-mi as Jae-eun

Joo Young-ju is behind bars, living the life of a female prisoner in South Korea. She spends her time making a wooden goose for her sister’s upcoming wedding, and is now up for parole. She tells the parole board her father is dead, her mother works constantly, and her sister missed a year of school to pay for her education, all while tearing up. The Parole Board buys it and she’s granted a release, but back in the holding area she is teaching the other prisoners how to lie convincingly and cry correctly. Young-ju leaves the prison and calls her sister, who is embarrassed by Young-ju and doesn’t want her future in-laws to know Young-ju is an ex-con.

Young-ju goes on a train ride, where a parade of passengers of varying degrees of annoyance sit by her. Finally a young man named Choi Hee-chul sits by her, though she is asleep at this point. Hee-chul pulls out an engagement ring from his coat and begins fondling it, given shades of Gollum. One bump of the train later, and the ring has fallen to the ground, and rolled underneath Young-ju. To get his ring back, Hee-chul has to reach past Young-ju, which he tries to do as she sleeps, but she awakens to him on the floor with his hand beneath her legs and freaks out, hitting him repeatedly.

Continue reading