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Title: Memories of the Sword

Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :halfstar:

HTS Overall Score:71

It seems that Hong Kong is no longer the king of Wu Xia films. Lately I’ve been seeing more and more of the other Asian nations mimicking the high flying swordplay and wire-fu that make films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and the like so very famous. The latest in the adoption of the Wu Xia genre has been South Korea, who has been making great leaps and strides in the cinematic world lately. Pumping out movie after movie at a record pace, and the resulting quality of the films going up up and up as they continue to learn and adapt to the ways of the movie going public. Stories like “Memories of the Sword” tend to usually be so high octane on action and swordplay that the narrative gets lost in the swirl of blades and people leaping higher than a building with ease. Interestingly the reverse is true here, as “Memories of the Sword” tends to be a densely packed story with so much political intrigue and multi-generational backstory that sometimes the action feels like it’s been left in the background.

Our film starts a few decades ago when the people were standing up to a corrupt Governor. Capturing the governor’s son the people, led by three warriors known as the three blades, threaten the governor unless he gives the people rights. However, one of the three, Deok-gi (Byung-hun Lee, of “GI Joe”) has betrayed the rest and turns over the people’s army to the despotic governor. The leader of the three blades, Poong-Chun (Soo-bin Bae) is put on display and with his wife and daughter on the line. Seeing red, Poong-Chun attacks Deok-gi in a fit of rage, only to be stabbed in the back the third of the three blades, Seol-rang (Do-yeon Jeon), who just so happens to be Deok-gi’s lover as well. Never forgiving Deok-gi for slaughtering so many and betraying their people, Seol-rang takes Poong-chun’s newborn daughter and escapes into the wilds while Deok-gi takes his thirty pieces of silver.

Fast forward about 18-20 years and we see a young girl who has just graduated her skills with the blade and is riding sky high. This girl, Hong-yi (Go-eun Kim) has the whole world ahead of her, and she is ready to go out into the world and kill the two people who killed her parents years ago. Well, she’s riding high until she finds out that her adoptive mother is Seol-rang and that the people she is meant to kill includes not only her adoptive mother, but an aristocrat who she confronted who just so happens to be Deok-gi under his new aristocratic name. Devastated at the news that she is meant to kill her adopted mother, Hong-yi gets trash drunk and meets up with a soldier who is seemingly loyal to Deok-gi. I won’t divulge any more secrets, as what is to come AFTER this point in the movie is a major game changer. While I can’t say anything about the plot twist at this point, but I CAN say that it turns the story from predictable to getting a LOT more complicated in the span of a few minutes.

“Memories of the Sword” is a tad dense at times, with a ton of plot points that take nearly the full movie to fully reveal themselves. It starts off as a simple revenge story with Wu-xia sword play thrown into the mix, but as the movie unfolds we see that there are a lot of wrinkles and nuances to the story, hiding just under the surface. There are actually SO many plot points and so many twists and backstabbing going on that it can get a bit confusing at times. I love Asian period pieces, and can dance the proverbial story dance that they do so well, but this one just felt DENSE as a brick. Most of the plot points get resolved in the end, but there are a few that seem to fade off into the mist, such as the relationship with the young guard and his supposed plot to take down to Deok-gi. It’s set up as major point of contention as another assassin comes into play, but then he just sticks to the background as Hong-yi realizes her full role in the movie.

We all know that Hong-yi is going to end up taking out Seol-rang and Deok-gi, but it’s the HOW this takes place that makes the story a bit interesting. The regular revenge tropes are trotted out, and then systematically wiped off the face of the story. The pull is a lot more personal and a lot more tragic (as is the case with many Asian movies) than one would originally expected. Again, it’s both a blessing and a curse for the film. On one hand it gives us a more grounded bit of reality for all of the whimsical flying around and almost magical swordplay, but at the same time it’s a trope that has been done multiple times in the past and feels a bit too familiar for its own good.


Not Rated by the MPAA

Video :4stars:
Shot in 2.39:1 scope, the AVC encoded image given to us by Well Go USA is a wondrous sight to look on. The cinematography is gorgeous to see as there is a cornucopia of beautiful Korean imagery strewn throughout the film, whether that be with humans in the shot or not. The movie is awash with luscious greens, and deep blacks and blues, combined with splashes of maroon red and other primaries thrown in. All of them are wonderfully saturated and cheerfully bright, giving off a very lustrous feel to the movie. White levels are balanced well with the rest of the track and there is good fine detail throughout the film. I did notice some crush here and there in the deep shadows and there is a bit of softness to the detail that keeps it from becoming a demo worthy film.

Audio :4stars:
With entirely Korean dialog, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is well done, with a good touch of soft ambient background noises to deal with punctuated with the sharp sounds of ringing steel when the action kicks into high gear. The vocals are soft, but never drowned out from the track at all, and the balanced between the score, the vocals and the action is well done. The clanging of steel blades tends to be given the most attention, but the surround speakers get a good workout too as they are privy to some wonderfully nuanced sounds of Korean nature, or the soft rustling of brocaded silk along hard wood floors. LFE is good, and adds some serious rumble to many of the action scenes, so much so that I was actually a little surprised at some of the wall vibrating sequences that came up.

Extras :halfstar:

• Trailer for the Film
• Previews

Overall: :3.5stars:

“Memories of the Sword” is a fun, if not overstuffed, Wu Xia film that is just visually a masterpiece. The fights are well executed and the director of photography REALLY knows how to set the pace for the combat scenes. The final battle where Hong-yi goes postal on the palace is a thing of beauty, watching the constant speed up and slow motion shots expertly spliced together. The bright red blood contrasting off of the white snow and the blues and blacks of the outside environment creating a haunting backdrop. All in all “Memories of the Sword” is a fun movie to watch, but gets a bit too convoluted and dense for its own good, as the 2 hour movie really could have used an extra 30-40 minutes to bring together some of the intricately woven sub plots. Recommended for a watch.

Additional Information:

Starring: Byung-hun Lee, Go-eun Kim, Do-yeon Jeon
Directed by: Heung-Sik Park
Written by: Heung-Sik Park, Ah-reum Choi
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: Korean: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Korean DD 2.0
Studio: Well Go USA
Rated: NR
Runtime: 121 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: January 12th 2016

Buy Memories of the Sword On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Good for a Watch

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