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Shadowless Sword

South Korea (2005), 117 minutes
Starring: Shin Hyun-june, Lee Seo-jin, Yoon Soy
Reviewer: Jeremy Silman
Genre: Fantasy, Martial Arts
Rating: 4, 5

I’’ll start by saying that I find most reviews of action films to be full of intellectual posturing, reviewer pomposity, and ignorance. The fallback positions of those at a loss to understand the soul of an action movie or say anything of worth are:”What was their motivation? Why did the characters want or believe those things?”” (That’s exactly what we want to see in an action film – every agonizing, dull moment of the character’s childhood.)

“Not enough character development!”” (Why didn’t Rambo get more character development? Perhaps it’s because we know he’s a killing machine and this little bit of knowledge is all that’s necessary for this kind of film. Watching thirty minutes of young Rambo get victimized by the school bully before swearing to rain death on all the world’s evil-doers is best avoided.)

“The plot wasn’t that interesting.”” (Good god people! If it’s an action film, we don’t need endless plot twists and plot ramifications. Intricate plots ARE okay if done with flair, but simplicity is also appreciated.)

The subject of this review, Shadowless Sword, has been covered with its share of reviewer slime, along with its share of praise. The slime usually centers around those elements mentioned above, so let’s break the film down and see what it offers.

THE PLOT: Set in 10th century Korea, an invasion has the ruling dynasty (the Balhae) falling apart and in need of a King. The invading forces have exterminated all but one of the royal siblings (who has lived in exile for over a decade), and a female swordswoman (Soha) is sent to find, protect, and retrieve him (Prince Jeong-hyeon). However, superhuman assassins are hot on his trail!

THE MOTIVATION: The plot makes the motivation abundantly clear: save new king/kill new king so that one side or the other can rule the land.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: The film actually finds time to explain why the Prince went into hiding and how Soha became a warrior. In an action film of this nature, we really don’t need (or want) more information than that.

To me, the plot, character motivation, and character development are all perfect (simple, sensible, and too the point) for a martial arts flick. The real questions that, in my view, make or break a movie of this kind are: How is the acting? How are the fight scenes? Are the characters interesting? Do the main characters possess enough chemistry to carry the movie? Is the cinematography up to snuff? I’m happy to say that Shadowless Sword gets high marks in every category!Making excellent use of the kind of wirework that’s been used in Chinese films, the characters often defy gravity in a tasteful, elegant manner. This, combined with excellent fight choreography and stunning cinematography, will leave even the most hardened fan of the genre with a contented smile on his face.

The characters themselves are highly memorable. The villains, possessing various kinds of skills and powers, don’t see themselves as evil, and at times engender feelings of compassion and even outright sorrow from the viewer.

The two main characters also possess emotional/physical charisma and hidden depths. Prince Jeong-hyeon doesn’t want to be King, while the extremely beautiful Soha (she exudes a sweet, gentle energy as she kicks ass) stoically puts up with his attempts to escape. Her devotion to him goes beyond mere duty, but the Prince only learns of this at the movie’s end.I found the look of the ancient villages and the dress/makeup of the people to be very different than anything I’ve seen before, and this created an ambience that added to my overall enjoyment. There was never a dull moment, the pace was brisk, fun, and even exciting, and the acting was excellent.

As is so typical of Korean films, we do get the usual gushing melodrama at the end. This seems to be a cultural thing that gives great pleasure to Koreans, but makes cantankerous old Jews like myself gag in horror. For those that want romance, might I suggest watching a love story and not a balls-to-the-wall action film? But those that want fantastic action, lovely cinematography, topnotch fight choreography, heroic deeds, and compelling characters will find Shadowless Sword to be one of the best films of its kind.A must see for fans of this genre!