23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
E. Lee Zimmerman
- Published on Amazon.com
THE SWORD WITH NO NAME is a slick, stylish, and wonderful period drama that explores Empress Myeong-seong's tumultuous reign as `the Queen of Korea' during the Joseon Dynasty. The Queen sought to limit Japanese influence within her country, and, to accomplish this, she created stronger bonds with competing nations of the time, such as Russia. Japanese assassins stormed her chambers in 1895 and killed and desecrated her body. SWORD tells her story, alongside that
All of the principles perform outstanding work throughout SWORD. Soo Ae is simply lovely and demure - exactly as you would want a young queen to be - in the role of Myeong-seong; in the start of the picture - shortly after she has been selected by the committee to be Korea's queen - she is quiet and perhaps a bit rough around the edges; however, once she makes the transformation to her chosen role, she lights up the screen. As her smitten suitor, Seung-woo Cho plays the bounty-hunter-turned-palace-guard Moo-myeong with the perfect balance of youthful charisma and cluelessness. He follows his heart, taking his blade along for the journey, to protect the woman he loves with it appears her own government is failing her. Also, Ho-jin Jeon suitably chews scenery (when necessary) as Dae Won-gun, the primary force behind dethroning Myeong-seong for what he believes is a fraudulent reign of his country.
Throughout the picture, Director Yong-gyun Kim maintains a timeless story. In the beginning, as the young queen and her guide explore the countryside, Kim leisurely walks his actors through their paces, photographing the picture in modestly idyllic settings; as the queen and her guard begin to discover their blossoming roles in Korea's dynasty, it's almost as if Kim allows the tiny nation to become more and more luscious. Cleverly, the director mirrors the couples rise and inevitable fall with his camera work, and he punctuates their softer moments with softly lit close-ups while displaying the perils of their journeys with more starkly composed scenes. It's clear that, as a storyteller, Kim has tremendous respect for the material, and SWORD is amply serves by not only a talented cast but also a competent command of the material.
The film is not without a few minor quibbles and possibly one major distraction. On several occasions, when director Kim could've (and should've) chosen a straight cut from one sequence to another, he instead chose a fade, which traditionally informs the narrative that some time has passed; in effect, no time has passed, so the effect is a bit confusing. Instead, the dissolves serve to slow down the narrative - to slow down the story - and I don't think that's what was intended. Now, this choice may've been a matter of experience versus inexperience; reviewing IMDB.com, I can only find Kim's name attached to a scant three pictures. Granted, IMDB.com could be incomplete, and that's why I'm willing to chalk it up to an inadvertently amateurish mistake on Kim's part. Perhaps a more seasoned director would've (and should've) chosen differently. Like I said, it's a minor quibble, but a quibble, nonetheless.)
However, what I felt was a major distraction - thankfully, Kim kept it to a bare minimum - was the incorporation of CGI into a few critical fight sequences. As an example, I'll point out the spectacular swordfight staged between two of the principles - Seung-woo Cho and Jae-jin Baek. Clearly, what the script called for was a major display of artistic prowess; given the location - a boat on the middle of the ocean - much of this was accomplished thru green-screen photography and CGI inserts ... and therein lays the problem. So much of the film is location shooting - out of the countryside, exteriors of the Queen's `castle,' etc. - that the sequence doesn't comfortably mesh with the bulk of the picture. It ends up feeling far more anime influenced than it need be, with the pixilated actors jumping and leaping and defying gravity in ways that conflicted with the naturalist narrative that dominates the film. The CGI - while understandably necessary - produced the negative effect of being glaringly obvious. No - for the purists - is doesn't destroy the film; it only feels out-of-sync with the rest of it.
This is classically-constructed storytelling - a young queen in distress aided by her faithful servant - and, as a consequence, THE SWORD WITH NO NAME may not be for everyone. It's filled with loss and love, sacrifice and redemption, nationalism and selflessness. Certainly, anyone viewing the frenetic CGI-enhanced fight sequences mentioned above may come away somewhat disappointed with the finished product. But for mature audiences who can accept a reasonable amount of artistic license with a quality period piece, SWORD delivers magnificently, and it deserves to be discovered by audiences around the world. It's the stuff of legends - told by a gifted cast and crew - and it deserves a place in any film fan's library.
In the fairness of disclosure, I was provided a screener copy by the folks at FUNimation Entertainment to complete this review.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Dennis A. Amith (kndy)
- Published on Amazon.com
Korea's Empress/Queen Myeongseong, her story of the Queen during the Joseon Dynasty of Korea is best known in history for standing up against Japan's military and government influence in the East by aligning Korea with Russia but also her tragic story of how she would be assassinated by those she stood up against.
Her story is quite fascinating and you can't help but respect what she was able to accomplish but seeing how things unfolded when she became a Queen and her willingness to open Korea to work with representatives of foreign countries.
But because of the dramatic and tragic elements of her story and the fact that all photos of the Empress were burned and destroyed, needless to say that the Empress has become a sort of mystery. No known photo exists and needless to say there have been dramatizations of the Queen and because she is such a historic figure, as well as heroic, there have been interest in her.
And in the case of "The Sword with No Name", the 2009 film receives a romanticized fictional story about the Empress or Queen written by Seol-Rok ya and directed by Yong-gyun Kim ("The Red Shoes"). The film would star actress Soo Ae (or spelled Su Ae, "Athena: Goddess of War", "Love Letter") playing the character of the Empress/Queen Myeong-seong and actor Seung-woo Cho ("Go Go 70's", "Love Phobia", "Marathon").
"The Sword with No Name" is presented in 1080p High Definition and the picture quality of this film is fantastic. From the vibrant colors outdoors, to the colorful outfits that the Queen and the guards would wear, the colors of the film is what makes this film so beautiful.
The HD release of this film also showcases the textures and details of the clothing but also skin of the characters. Needless to say, visually "The Sword with No Name" is fantastic, black levels are nice and deep and color, its strong point looks absolutely great on Blu-ray!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"The Sword with No Name" is presented in Korean with a Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Mix and and English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix (note: The case says 1.5 but it's mixed around and should be 5.1). As mentioned before for many Asian films, I am one who will never watch an Asian film with an English dub. The Korean lossless soundtrack features wonderful acting by both Su Ae and Cho Seung-Woo and their emotions are very important as a viewer, by listening to the English dub track, I know FUNimation Entertainment is great when it comes to English dubs but the English dub soundtrack...I listened to it for a short while and it wasn't for me.
Dialogue is crystal clear and the sword fights and the clanging of steel upon steel sounds good, despite not being a 5.1 mix. But still, the acting in this film by its two lead talents are just wonderful and listening to someone else trying to bring that emotion to a Western audience, it just doesn't work for me. So, I'm biased towards the original Korean dialogue.
Subtitles are in English.
"The Sword with No Name" comes with the following special features:
Making the Sword with No Name - (10:10) Featuring the making of "The Sword with No Name" and how various scenes were shot.
Cast Interviews - (10:43) A short interview with Cho Seung-woo and Su Ae talking about their character role.
Teaser Trailer - (1:23) Featuring the teaser trailer for "The Sword with No Name".
Theatrical Trailer - (1:55)The theatrical trailer for "The Sword with No Name".
"The Sword with No Name" comes with a slipcover case.
For over a decade, since the day I discovered the news about the real-life Empress Myeongseong, I have always admired the stories that detail her life as an intellectual but also what she did to protect her country.
From the late 1800's to early 1900's, Japan was a dominating country known for its ruthless military and its goal of dominating Asia as a whole without Western or international influence. So, when I researched the Queen back then, it was always an interesting and intriguing story based on real-life events of what this woman did her for her country but also her love/hate relationship to her husband the King.
And as there have been many dramatizations on the life of the real queen, "The Sword with No Name" would take things a bit in a different direction by making by romanticizing her story but featuring her as a strong, intellectual woman.
I absolutely enjoyed this film! And sure, as it would have been great to have a film adaptation on the real life Empress, but the fact that she is such an intriguing woman, she also has been somewhat of a mystery. There are records and writings about her, her accomplishments and life as a Queen (which she is often shown in a juxtaposition with Marie Antoinette) but surprisingly, many documents of the Queen's assassination are just making itself known to the public most recently in 2005 (a written account of the Queen's assassination known as the "Eulmi Incident" by a Russian civilian working with the Korean government at the time) but to this day, no photo of her exists (it is said that the Japanese destroyed all photos of her after her assassination).
But one can understand how the Queen's tragedy would add fire to the wheels towards anti-Japanese sentiments in Korea and things would get worse between Korea and Japan for many decades more and tensions between the two countries still exist today.
But if anything, while not a non-fiction-based story, "The Sword with No Name" still reignites interest of not just Koreans but people all over the world who have just watched the film and are wanting to learn about the real life Empress Myeongseong. And for me, there is so much going for this story in terms of its storyline, its strong performances by Su Ae and Cho Seung-woo but also its beautiful visuals and even clever swordfighting choreography. The film looks absolutely wonderful on Blu-ray and I'm quite happy that FUNimation Entertainment decided to bring this film to the U.S.
"The Sword with No Name" is a film that Asian cinema fans should watch. I often hear from my Asian cinema friends about how Asia is stuck within this banality of rehashed films and are stuck with creating satisfying film releases but when I watch a film like "The Sword with No Name", I can't help but be rather appreciative for this film because it is one heck of an awesome love story but it also is one of those films that will make viewers possibly wanting to know more about the actual person the film is about.
There is so many positive things going for this film and aside from what I just mentioned, the music and cinematography are absolutely enjoyable to watch as well! The swordfighting choreography is not too over the top and I felt it was quite stylized but in a cool and effective way.
Overall, if you are looking for a wonderful film from Korea or Asia that is now available on Blu-ray or DVD in the U.S., I highly recommend giving "The Sword with No Name" a try!