Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I’m pretty much a sucker for Asians flying across rooftops and I wish like hell somebody would teach me how to pull that off. South Korean director Yeong Jun Kim’s ‘Shadowless Sword’ combines plenty of Asian characters taking flight, though I’m sure it’s more like gliding, lots a great sword play martial arts, a couple of beautiful, albeit very young actresses and mixes it together in a very simple story which makes it a point to stay out the way of the action with the results being largely, very good and highly entertaining.

Our film opens in 10th century Korea with a heavily guarded prince doing some Calligraphy when without a warning his guards are attacked, quite violently, with heads and limbs being removed and bodies exploding (seriously). It seems the Killer Bow Army is on the scene led by their commander Kun Hyeon (Hyeon Jun Shin) and his loyal right hand and equally lethal Mae (Ki-Yong Li). After dispatching the guards with EXTREME prejudice, Kun faces the Prince, asks him to cooperate, which he declines, and that denial will be that prince’s last action on earth.

The generals of Balhae, the land under siege by this rebellion, know that there is one lone prince in exile who can lead them and he must be found, protected, and escorted to safety. The Killer Bow also want this Prince, and are aware that the Balhae have one warrior left that they haven’t yet slain who may prove troublesome. Commander Kun’s boss urges the commander to stop killing the royal family as their being alive and their ‘voluntary’ cooperation would make their transition into power much simpler, but Kun seems to have something personal going on that is prohibiting that course of action. Death to the infidels!

When we meet Prince Jeong Hyeong (Seo Jin Lee) he doesn’t seem very regal as he is just a low level fence of stolen goods, and when he meets the warrior Soha (Soo Yi Yoon) sent to save him, he’s convinced she’s just an assassin and gives her the slip. Soha is hard to shake though and after roughing a group of thugs that Jeong sends to subdue her, he knows she means strictly business. Just in time too because Mae has appeared on the scene with a group of Killer Bow ninjas by her side and now the chase is on.

Across the country side the Prince and his protector flee, at first with the Prince extremely reluctant but slowly he begins to remember, with the help of Soha, who he once was and what he used to represent. What he never does quite understand is Soha’s almost maniacal loyalty to him, someone she’s never met and he’s not buying the whole ‘in the line of duty’ argument. As the time goes by their relationship grows, though it never crosses the line, and the battles get more intense until it is time for enemies to face each other until only one is left standing.

‘Crouching Tiger’, ‘Shinobi’, ‘Thousand Daggers’… I absolutely love these high flying grand scale epic Asian action drama’s, and though I didn’t ‘love’ ‘Shadowless Sword’ as much as I cherished those previously mentioned films, I did like it a lot for what it delivered. Director Kim has created a film of stunning beauty with some outstanding cinematography and some truly breathtaking action sequences. As a pure action film ‘Shadowless Sword’ is an unqualified success and I suspect that anybody who likes action films and martial arts films in particular will have little to complain about in this movie. As a narrative work ‘Shadowless Sword’ comes up a little short. The story is very basic as the oft told tale of the reluctant character on the run who finds his true self, but it is layered under quite a bit of melodrama as even the simplest scenes are greeted with sweeping strings and dramatic harps. If one was on set of this film you can almost here Director Kim shout ‘Strike a Pose!’ after every fight scene since our actors finished practically every motion with some kind of dramatic stance while the camera slowly panned back to reveal their glory. And what was up with the heavy eye shadow on the male characters? Was this Kabuki Theatre I’m watching here?

The performances in the movie were good with Seo jin Lee doing a convincing job going from reluctant cad to noble badass prince in a reasonably convincing way. Both female leads, though all of nineteen when this was being shot are very easy on the eye and very athletic, though Soo yi Yoon’s Soha was largely unemotional while Ki-yong Li’s Mae did a little more dramatically with her character. Hyeong Jun Shin’s Kun was certainly the biggest offender of the dramatic pose and damn if his super heavy eye shadow didn’t make him look all that threatening, no matter how many people he blew up with his sword technique.

‘Shadowless Sword’ is a bit of a mixed bag of heavy melodrama and bravura action, but it was spirited and moved at such a brisk pace that even the heavy drama does little to slow down it’s pace or take away from what it does so well. If you like high flying martial arts films then you owe to yourself to at least check this one out.

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