Story: During late 19th century Joseon-dynasty the young woman Ja-yeong (Soo-ae) is supposed to become the new queen. She wants to
enjoy her last days as a free woman and therefore goes to the sea where she meets the young man Moo-myeong (Cho Seung-woo), a headhunter,
who instantly falls in love with her. Ja-yeong has feelings for him, too, but she knows that she can't escape her destiny.
At court Ja-yeong proves her extraordinary skills as a politician and diplomat. She manages to sign peace treaties with westerners who get more in numbers in Korea day by day. Dae Won-gun (Cheon Ho-jin), the king's father, isn't very pleased to see this and wants to get rid of the queen. However, Moo-myeong, who knows about the planned assassination attempts at the queen's life, has sworn to protect Ja-yeong. He becomes a member of the palace guard and has to realize that there are numerous intrigues schemed at the court that threaten Ja-yeong's life. But with his sword in his hands he stands at the queen's side at any time.
Review: "The Sword with no Name" is a brash genre mix revolving around the life of queen Myeongseong. The filmmakers did
only loosely adhere to the facts which is why any assumption that this might be a historical drama is soon shattered. Especially the unnecessary,
ridiculous looking fantasy fights add to this fact. Thus, if you really want to know something about this interesting historical character, who
met with western powers in a diplomatic fashion and therefore enormously stirred up the patriarchal government concept at that time, you might
want to simply get your hands on a book about the subject. The little interesting information about the condition of the country at the
end of the Joseon-dynasty the movie feeds us with are very soon pushed into the back by a little kitschy seeming love story, half-baked
intrigue plots at court and a few nice sets. "The Sword with no Name" just does too many things wrong to really score with its few nice ideas.
The most apparent problem is the incoherent picture language used by the director. Especially during the beginning a shaky handcamera gets rather disturbing as it gives the film the flair of a B-movie. Which just doesn't fit to the opulent sets and costumes at king's court. So we are asking ourselves if there weren't maybe two different directors involved in the work. But that's not where problems stop. The film's style is so uneven that we also get some over-the-top fantasy fights that absolutely don't fit into the framework of the movie! More than anything else the exhibition fight during which the two sword fighters suddenly find themselves on a lake that is frozen solid shows that some filmmakers don't get what fantasy actually is about. Because what we get here is outright ridiculous. Adding to that is the fact that the fights are mostly and totally obviously generated at the comuter. On a Playstation 2-level! In times where photorealistic games make the border between film and video game very blurry this kind of quality is simply an insolence. If you can't find suitable fighters for the movie then you just have to cut down the action sequences!
Which brings us to the movie's editing. Most of the time it is a real catastrophe. There are countless unmotivated changes of location and especially when it comes to the overthrow and Moo-myeong takes the queen out of the palace we ask ourselves if we might have missed something. The change of pacing and the plot twists are oftentimes that unpredictable and without any reasoning that we are completely pulled out of the movie.
At least the love story can squeeze some quality out of the film at the beginning and the end, even though it has to be pointed out that there is also a certain tendency to drift into kitsch. Acting-wise there is no real great effort to be found either, but at least solid performances. The soundtrack interestingly enough proves to be the film's highlight and makes some emotional scenes work out better than they actually should. The ending works in some more tears and convinces with its ruthlessness which is also found a few other times throughout the movie, e.g. when Moo-myeong has to stand guard in front of the queen's chambers while the king is asking his wife to do her marital duties with him.
However, a few nice scenes can't hide the half-baked nature of the film. The king's father changes sides every other minute, wanting to protect the queen while at other times would like to see nothing more than her death. The Japanese are the snaky villians and we also get to see a few westerners in order to bring some more historical profoundess into the film. But that's vain endeavor since "The Sword with no Name" doesn't focus on the political power struggles as it should have, but on the love story which never comes to bear the way it could have been possible because of the jumps through different genres and the inappropriately inserted action scenes. The action sequence in which Moo-myeong has to fight off a whole army shows once again how the filmmakers were struggling to create something epic with this movie, but the disappointments are piling up to such a degree that at the end and despite the attempts to arouse anticipation for a great action finale we are actually expecting nothing big anymore which is a good thing as it immunizes us of the last big disappointment of the movie.
Director Kim Yong-gyun has created a surprisingly beautiful romantic drama with "Wanee and Junah" and his horror film "The Red Shoes" in its director's cut version was a nice contribution to the genre, too. "The Sword with no Name" surely doesn't make you believe that the same director was at work. Those who want to see a well done love story at a court with a lot of intrigues should watch "A Frozen Flower". And if you can't live without epic and at times computer-generated fights I'd recommend the Chinese genre addition "Curse of the Golden Flower". There are only little reasons to watch "The Sword with no Name". In itself a solid movie it just doesn't manage to have a coherent undertone and therefore pulls the viewer out of the events over and over again. The many frustrating elements, the ridiculous action scenes and the genres that just don't work into each other's favor make a recommendation impossible. Thus, the film can at best serve as a small introduction to the life of the historical character Myeongseong.