Director: Lee Joon-Ik
Screenplay: Seok-Hwan Choi, Cheol-Hyeon Jo & Oh Seung-Hyeon
Starring: Baek Seong-hyeon, Cha Seung-won, Chang-Wan Kim, Hae-Yeong Lee, Hwang Jeong-min
Country: South Korea
Duration: 111 min
BBFC Certification: 15
Blades of Blood is a classy period action drama from South Korea which seems to channel the Hong Kong produced wuxia films of the 90's with a little bit of Japanese chanbara mixed in. After being sent a few duff martial arts titles to review recently it was refreshing to get one that I genuinely enjoyed.
The film follows two main plotlines. One is that of swordsman Lee Mong-Hak (Cha Seung-won) who is the ruthless leader of a rebellion against the Korean government and the other is a tale of revenge, following Gyeon Ja (Baek Seong-hyeon), the illegitimate son of a nobleman who was killed by Mong-Hak and his men. Coming between the two desperate men is the blind swordsman Hwang Jung Hak (Hwang Jeong-min) who is attempting to catch up and stop Mong-Hak's bloody trail to the nation's throne and trains up the young Gyeon Ja along the way.
What is interesting about the story is that although Mong-Hak often makes for quite an evil villain, he generally has understandable motives for his actions and is a well-rounded character instead of the cartoonish 'bad-guys' we usually get in these types of films. The film's writing is hardly revelatory though, for the most part it's a standard revenge story with doses of occasionally confusing, but generally light political intrigue. The plotting is a bit wobbly too although it's generally well paced and fairly involving.
As a good old fashioned swordplay and martial arts movie this is top notch though. It's not got the elaborate choreography of a Yuen Woo-Ping film, but it's got healthy chunks of swift, violent and exciting action scenes. The sword-fights in particular are well staged and fun to watch, especially the last couple of big duels (a portion of which can be seen in the video below). The general tone and balance of everything worked for me most of all and gave it that traditionally entertaining feel where the drama, action and comedy all fit together nicely.
The film is aided by a classically beautiful look too. The cinematography is impressive without ever being flashy and the production design looks authentic and lavish without going overboard and trying to mimic Zhang Yimou's work.
Overall it's not a mind-blowing film and nor is it particularly memorable, but it's a solid piece of entertainment that has been made with enough care and attention to avoid the common pitfalls of 'serious' period action films. Fans of wuxia and chanbara would do well to give this Korean entry a try.
Blades of Blood is out on DVD on 2nd May in the UK, released by Metrodome. The DVD contains no special features, but the picture and sound quality are very good.
Review by David Brook
The trailer (well, just a clip from the film really):