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Original Title:
Muyeong geom

South Korea 2005

Wuxia, Drama

Kim Young-jun

Yoon So-yi
Lee Seo-jin
Shin Hyeon-jun
Lee Ki-yong
Choi Ji-Woo
Jeong Ho-bin
Jeong Jun-ha
Kim Su-ro

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Shadowless Sword

Story: In the year 926 Balhae is conquered by Georan. A civil war takes place. The only hope is a prince, who ascends the throne and unifies the country once again. However, The Killer-Blade-Brigade, lead by vengeful Kun (Shin Hyeon-jun) kills systematically every heir to the throne until there is only one left: Jeong Hyun (Lee Seo-jin), who was banished from the country when he was 14 and who now makes a living as a dealer in stolen goods.
So-ha (Yoon So-yi) is hired as a bodyguard, whose mission it is to bring back Jeong Hyun for him to rightfully become the new king. But as things are he is not interested in coming into office. Nevertheless, he has to acknowledge that it seems best to stay with So-ha at the moment, because Kun and his men have already taken up the chase.
While So-ha tries to convince Jeong of the necessity that he returns to Balhae with her, Kun gets closer and closer. The first fights between So-ha and Kun's brigade start to take place, but eventually Jeong and his female bodyguard can escape. While on the run Jeong notices the sorrow the land is dominated by. Even though he claims to be another person now, So-ha can still recognize his old self of his days as a prince. But still, can she take him to Balhae alive and will he fulfil his obligations?

Review: Kim Young-jun's second movie after "Bichunmoo" was a long time in the coming. Not satisfied with his first movie himself, "Shadowless Sword" was supposed to be bigger, more epic and more international. Director Kim said that he learned a lot out of his mistakes and would do a lot better this time. To get right to the point: He succeeded in doing so!
Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that his second movie is flawless. An in its core simple and even too typical story for a Wuxia-movie, a predictable love story, as well as some minor pacing problems spoil the overall picture. In return the movie compensates these mistakes with very good fights, beautiful pictures and a lot of good ideas.

"Shadowless Sword" isn't historically authentic, but also doesn't claim to be so. In best Chinese fantasy-style the protagonists fly through the air, the most incredible fighting moves are pulled off and a lot of special attacks delight the audience. The film tries hard to let the story look more complicated than it really is by using some flashbacks every now and then, but if you saw just a handful of Swordsplay-movies you will see through some of these "revelations" miles in advance. So it's easy for us to guess who So-ha really is and the ending doesn't catch us by surprise either, since it is constructed according to a well-know formula. .
Nearly unbearably predictable is the love story between the two main characters. No wonder, that this leads to some damn cheesy scenes, which contrast the rest of the movie and additionally are accompanied by some horrible Hollywood-romance-tearjerker-like music. The soundtrack in general is quite international, most likely to make it more easily accessable for a wider audience. However, in the end it just doesn't feel right.

Let's get to something more positive, which is the fights. A lot of stunt doubles from China and action-director Ma Yuk-Sing ("A Chinese Ghost Story III") make them look very professional. Yet, the main actors also deserve to be praised as they seemingly did a good deal of their stunts themselves. First of all, there is Yoon So-yi who already did a good job in "Arahan". It's nice to see her in a fighting role once again. Her movements are elegant and the role of the quite and calculational female warrior just fits her perfectly.
There are not a few fights and moreover they are scattered throughout the movie in a well-balanced manner. The only sore point is that one would have liked to see some fights to be longer, especially the final one. Nonetheless, there is a lot of originality to be found here. There are fights by sea, land and even in the air. Of course there is also a lot of wire-work, but more than anything else, the elegance of some of the fights and the different characters with their individual weapons will make the Martial-Art-fan's heart jump. A lot of offbeat sword moves and fantasy attacks raise the quality of the action sequences way above what you usually get to see of Martial Arts flicks.
At some points the movie is also pretty bloody. You also shouldn't be troubled by the fact that some of the enemies explode when they die. That's how things work here...

Besides, "Shadowless Swords" can also be an eye candy with its wonderful landscapes and sets. Being completely shot in China, director Kim did his best to bring out the maximum of the pictures. Nice camera angles and moves, as well as pretty good special effects add to the positive overall picture. Especially the final fight in the astral plane will stay in your head for a while.
The costumes are also done very well, only some of the hairstyling remains questionable.
Concerning the acting there is nothing outstanding. The actors do a solid job. Yoon So-yi fights herself to the top of Korea's power women and rightfully crowns herself new queen. Jeong Hyun is also quite convincing.

Sadly, the movie has to struggle with a too predictable story and a not fully credible love story. The fact that there are some pseudo-phylosphical dialogues about the "spirit" of the sword doesn't help to eradicate the feeling that the story is too shallow. Sure, some of these dialogues are not that bad, but that there is a sword of killing and one of protecting is well-known to us for about... the last twenty Wuxia movies or so. Moreover, these conversations don't really justify the choice of the title.
A little side note: If you are one of those guys who press the stop-button right when the ending credits hit the screen then you might miss something as there is a little encore.

As New Line Cinema was involved in the production of the movie it's pretty likely that the film will hit the big screen in America and Europe, too. Thanks to its international touch "Shadowless Sword" shouldn't have too much of a problem to be quite successful. The movie is done according to a well-proven formula for Asian Wuxia-flicks and good, inventive action, as well as some drama should satisfy most of the viewers.
Nothing new for Asian-moviefans, but well executed, director Kim if nothing else was successful in delivering a movie that is far superior to his first try "Bichunmoo". Very entertaining and produced with quite some effort, "Shadowless Sword" marks the best try of Korea to establish oneself in the Wuxia-genre. Nonetheless, the crown still stays with China...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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