SHADOWLESS SWORD (2005)
In the 10th century, in what is today Korea, the kingdom of Palhae is under attack and is in danger of being taken over by a neighboring kingdom. An elite military team, known as the Killer-Blade Army, have been sent in to slaughter the royal bloodline of Palhae in an attempt to crush the people's spirit. Now, only one prince is left, and his whereabouts are unknown. A lone female soldier, Soha, has taken up the responsibility of finding him. Indeed she does find him, under the name assumed Sosam, and leading the life of a swindling merchant. Hot on her heels are the Killer-Blade Army, whose sole mission now is to kill Sosam.
Although Soha does not convince Sosam that he must return to the capital to become king, he unwillingly travels by her side so as not to be killed. After several sword-crossing encounters with the Killer-Blade Army, the pair make their way to the rendezvous point, where Soha is to meet her contact that will take them to the Palhae capital under the protection of an army. However, the Killer-Blade Army once again catches up to them, and Sosam must finally make the choice he has been avoiding all of his adult life.
Five years after his debut with the tragic swordplay-romance BICHUNMOO, director Kim Young-Jun returns to the directors chair a more experienced and coordinated director. He once again returns to Korea's past, where he blends action, romance, politics and patriotism into a bubbling stew that tastes delicious. The storyline is fairly simplistic, and once all of the main characters and their motivations are laid out, it becomes an invigorating repetition of fast moving fight scene followed by either a scene of the heroes' bonding through admiration or the enemies' plot to take over Palhae. It is a surprisingly effective rhythm that allows for just a bit of character development and a few surprising revelations. The core characters are quickly pigeon-holed so that the audience has no doubt who to route for and who to hiss at. Both Sosam and Soha are established as charismatic and honorable warriors, while the leaders of the Killer-Blade Army are immediately defined as the revenge-seeking, back-stabbing and ego-driven villains that are necessary to make a film such as this work.
The action sequences here are in top form, and borrow liberally (if not flat out steal) from recent films like CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, as well as the style of earlier Hong Kong fare such as SWORDSMAN 2, DRAGON INN and some Shaw Brothers productions. Aside from a more rapid-fire editing, there is nothing on tap in this film that has not been done before, but it is still fun and exciting to watch. Here, both heroes and villains are able to float weightless through the air, bounce off of sword blades, run across flying arrows and maneuver their weapons through the air with the greatest of ease. There is also plenty of fabrics swooshing through the air, concrete cracking under feet and energy attacks which literally blow up both bodies and backgrounds. Kim Young-Jun is also not afraid to borrow from epic films of the west, as he builds up a scene that could be pulled directly from BRAVEHEART, sets up Sosam as a vagabond reluctant to take the throne a la LORD OF THE RINGS' Aragorn and cakes the lead assassins sword in blood so that it is a dark crimson red before the climactic final duel. Think about it a moment and you'll figure out the influence.
New Line Cinema is taking its first stab at distributing a non-English speaking film, and has all international rights to this film. Although there is currently no release date for SHADOWLESS SWORD in the states, it is inevitable that at least a DVD release is in the works here. In the meantime, import versions are readily available for those that know where to look, and if any of the Chinese films previously mentioned got your heart racing when you saw them, well then start figuring out how to get your hands on a copy of this movie now!