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South Korea 2006

Fantasy, Romance, Action

Cho Dong-oh

Jung Woo-sung
Kim Tae-hee
Heo Jun-ho
Kim Kwang-il
Park Sang-wook
Park Jeong-hak
Yu Ha-jun

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The Restless

Story: Yi Gwak (Jung Woo-sung) is the last survivor of a special unit of demon hunters, who once protected the kingdom. However, now the country is drowning in chaos, and moreover there is even a price on Yi Gwak's head. Despite his martial arts expertise he eventually gets poisened and wakes up in an alienating and fantastic place - "Midheaven".
Every dead person has to remain in Midheaven for exactly 49 days and cleanse his spirit. Depending on how you lead your life you get into hell or heaven, until you are finally reborn. Still, somehow Yi Gwak doesn't seem to be dead! But if he really isn't how could he end up at this place?
Things get more complicated when the demonhunter meets the last remaining guardian of Midheaven, So-hwa (Kim Tae-hee). This woman looks exacly like Yi's dead wife. Furthermore, Yi Gwak has to find out that the gates to Midheaven have been closed so that the demons, lead by Ban-chu (Heo Jun-ho), former headman of the unit of demonhunters Yi was part of, can't invade earth. Ban-chu took out almost all guardians of Midheaven in order to get his hands on a magical amulet, that can open the gates to earth. This amulet is now worn by So-hwa, and even if she can't remember Yi Gwak, her former husband still protects her with all his heart and strength, as he still sees his wife in her. Thus, Yi Gwak has to face his old comrades on a battlefield between heaven and hell...

Review: "The Restless" is a fantasy flick I was personally looking forward to for months. So the more disillusioning is the sum up: Especially on a visual level the movie is without a doubt very impressive, yet a shallow script, not quite elaborated characters and a little bit too much heartache make this film a lot worse than what the great trailer promised.
It might be a good idea to raise the question if it's just the high expectations that lead to this rather average review, or if the movie on a solely objective level (if there is such a thing at all) also falters too much. The answer is simple. "The Restless" is a frustrating movie experience, because we are made to believe to get a piece of quality work thanks to the grandiose pictures and sets, but in the end there is nearly no content. We only get a well-intentioned story about love, which is filled with a worn-out stereotyped plot revolving around good against evil.

Moreover, "The Restless" is more heartwrenching romantic drama than it will be acceptable for some viewers. This wouldn't be that fatal, if the romance wouldn't be destroyed by banal dialogues and cheesy moments. Yi Gwak fights and bleeds for a woman, who doesn't even know him at all and therefore can't answer his feelings. Naturally, the continuous sacrifice of her protector forces So-hwa to give thought to what love really is and how she feels about it.
So the story mainly revolves around love, which almost gets a moral coloration in this flick. It doesn't matter if it's good or evil, love is shared by anyone and therefore it's also the ray of hope for mankind. Well, isn't that sweet... Still, it's nothing new. Even more important, this message is delivered in a poorly conceived manner.

Which brings us to the characters. They are drawn shockingly one-dimensional, which naturally doesn't serve the film well at all. Yi Gwak is blinded by his feelings of love and follows his beloved one no matter what, while she herself doesn't really know how she is supposed to save Midheaven. Luckily, she doesn't need to care about that as the villians are already hot on her trail and when they have finally found her they just get slain by Yi. Here, at a story level, the movie falters the most. Why is Ban-chu, a former demonhunter, joining forces with a bunch of demons, and why is he so eager to get the power he was denied on earth? Throughout the movie there are lots of flashbacks, that show us how amiably the friendship between the teammates was. Even Ban-chu wasn't such a bad guy, as it seems. Why this changed isn't really evident, and furthermore it's also astounding that there are almost no scruples on the side of Yi's former comrades who seek Yi Gwak's life. There are only a few good approaches concerning that matter, for instance Hyo, who has feelings for Yi for a long time already. However, in the end the movie just misses to get out more of these interesting relationships. The characters aren't convincing in terms of their behaviour, and they even seem contrived at times.

Jung Woo-sung ("A Moment to Remember", "Daisy") gives his best to depict the warrior, who fights for his love, and even bestows a little bit of colour upon him. But he eventually has to fail, as TV-Drama Kim Tae-hee does, which is mainly to be blamed on a half-baked script. Naturally, this also means that the chemistry between the two is never as engaging as it may have been intended. This also leads to some romantic scenes that are unintentionally cheesy.
The biggest sore point is the script, that sends our heroes from one beautiful set to another without a real scheme or structure to be found behind their actions, so that one finally comes to the conclusion that the protagonists are as random in their behaviour as the "spirits" in the movie are, who almost apathically wander around as if being part of a market place crowd.
Furthermore, some of the scenes are too jumpy and the story proves to be too trite in its core. Even though admittedly there are some nice ideas concerning certain details.

These little details are mostly the effort of cinematographer Kim Young-ho and art directors Han Zhong and Wu Ming. Here, it also becomes apparent that "The Restless" is nearly a Chinese-Korean co-production. The film was shot in China, as the wonderful landscape shots are proof of. The pictures are breathtakingly beautiful and the sets are worked out with a great sense for details. For proof just look at the town or the see completely covered in flower blossoms. The exceptionally well done special effects also add to the illusion, that we are part of a fantasy world that works according to its own rules and formulas. We have magic, sword fights, demons and spirits etc. Well, this is all a step into the right direction and could have made for something special, if it weren't for the plot, that just can't serve as a decent framework for the great pictures. Still, you have to give the filmmakers credit for their visual finesse, the astonishing pictures and the best, most frequent and most impressive CGI-effects out of Asia to date.

This feast for the eyes is complemented by the works of costume designer Emi Wada ("Hero") and a great soundtrack by Shiro Sagisu, which, however, sometimes is a little bit too Japanese in its style for this film. Moreover, number 1 fight choreographer of Korea, Jung Doo-hong ("Figher in the Wind"), has been obligated to arrange the fight sequences. Nevertheless, you shouldn't expect too much as Jung's choreography gets degraded by too many close shots, slow-motion, spinning and wire-fu. A little bit more energy and power wouldn't have been bad, but seemingly director Cho Dong-oh had a different picture in his mind. However, later on there is an epic, even though a little bit too short battle between Yi Gwak and a whole legion (literally) of demon-like beings. Finally, the action hits us right into our faces and additionally, the CGI-effects fuse with the fight choreography of Jung in a great symbiosis.

When the dust of this fantasy spectacle has finally settled, there is only left disappointment, however. The pictures are grandiose, but the content really leaves to be desired. Why it doesn't seem to be possible to provide style and substance at the same time, remains a mystery. At least to me. Despite its visual supremacy "The Restless" isn't as entertaining as the Korean Wuxia-addition "Shadowless Sword". This once again shows us that Korea still has some way to go until it can really take on the competition of this originally "Chinese genre". At least, with its "The Promise" China also proved that it can do worse, and so "The Restless" is a movie for those who don't mind getting a trite story told in beautiful pictures. Nonetheless, if you know what trip you are up to with this film you will have a much more pleasent experience, which is why I really this one on a second viewing a lot more. Therefore, it maybe gets a better score that it might actually deserve, but hey, it's entertaining stuff.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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