Funimation // 2009 // 124 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // September 21st, 2011
Every Kingdom Needs A Protector.
The Sword With No Name offers a fictionalized account of the life of the Empress Myeong-seong, who led Korea until her death in 1895.
When Moo-myeong (Seung-woo Cho), a bounty hunter, falls in love with Ja Yeong (Su-Ae), he fails to realize she is betrothed to the king. Upon learning of her situation, the infatuated Moo-myeong secures himself a job in the palace guard to stay close to Ja Yeong, and to ensure her safety. However, with her duties as an empress insisting on her time and dictating her actions, their love can never be.
As such the two lovers are forced to hide their true feelings, sharing only fleeting moments together. Although he cannot be with the woman he loves, Moo-myeong commits himself to protecting her; as an increasingly hostile Japan threatens to destabilize the country, his resolve is tested to its limit.
Director Yong-gyun Kim's The Sword With No Name brings together several genres into one ambitious picture. A historical epic, built around a romance and enlivened by fantastical fight sequences, the film's reach exceeds its grasp by some way as Yong-gyun never really finds a way to successfully gel together its numerous elements; despite this, his film still earns points for its style, ambition, and honest storytelling.
Ironically, coming from someone who has a deep love for action cinema, it was the action sequences that sat least comfortably with me during my viewing of The Sword With No Name. Not that the choreography is poor -- far from it -- it's just such a jarring leap that viewers are likely to find themselves pulled out of the picture. The problem is one of restraint, or rather a lack of it. A showdown on a rickety fishing boat early in the picture is a perfect example of the problem. Having been rather subdued to this point, The Sword With No Name suddenly explodes into life as the two warriors unleash near superhuman feats of skill and defy all laws of physics as they propel themselves with amazing agility and stunning speed. Augmented by (occasionally weak) CGI and a hi-tempo soundtrack, it is hard not to be impressed by the sheer spectacle of these sequences, but they simply don't fit with the style or tone the rest of the picture exudes. It's a damn shame, too, as a medieval version of "The Burly Brawl" from The Matrix Reloaded which appears toward the end shows just how considered and impressive the choreography truly is.
The film is far more successful when playing on the human drama, with Yong-gyun excelling at drawing fine performances from his cast. The angst of both Moo-myeong and Ja-young is palpable, as both struggle to hide their feelings for each other as they strive to do what is best for their country. Su-Ae delivers a vulnerable performance as the young Empress coming into womanhood. Burdened with destiny, Ja-young spends much of the movie forced to hide her emotions, but Su-Ae is able to beautifully convey her inner turmoil through the slightest action. Seung-woo Cho is the epitome of steely determination as the heroic Moo-myeoing. When he confronts entire armies, and tells them none of them will get to his queen, you believe every word he says. It's to Yong-gyun's credit that this romance is not lost amongst the story of a country coming to terms with its rapidly changing role in the modern world, as Japanese aggression forces a change to the status quo.
Visually, Yong-gyun Kim's direction is hard to fault. The scenes shared between Ja-young and her protector often employ a less-formal style, with the use of handheld camera's lending a more natural, yet still elegant look. This more relaxed style is then jettisoned in favor of a far more stately approach when the film addresses the more political aspects of the screenplay. This switch between the two styles is never disorientating for the viewer, and ensures the film's looks are always in keeping with its tone. Even the more fantastical action sequences are a joy to behold, regardless of how comfortably they sit with the rest of the picture.
Funimation's release of The Sword With No Name offers a handful of extras. The "Making The Sword With No Name" is made up of behind-the-scenes footage from various scenes, and is complemented by a number of interviews with the cast. Beyond that, the disc contains two trailers for the film.
Viewers have the choice of watching The Sword With No Name in either its native language, courtesy of a stereo Korean soundtrack, or an English 5.1 mix. Obviously the Korean track is the preferred option, and delivers a lively mix during action sequences, but is otherwise fairly low-key. Still, it's a technically strong mix, with crisp dialogue, and a clean score. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer offers a combination of deep black levels, strong colors, and excellent detail levels.
If The Sword With No Name is not wholly successful, perhaps lacking a real connect with its audience, it should still be considered for fans of world cinema. Light on action (it is used sparingly in truth), the film will play best to those who prefer their historical epics laced with a little romance.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Korean)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated