Monday, February 15, 2021

The Swordsman (2020)

During the chaotic period of Ming-Qing dynasty transition, after failing to protect and preventing the downfall of Gwanghaegun, Tae-yul, the best swordsman in Joseon, lives in seclusion with his daughter Tae-ok in the mountains. As Tae-yul's eyesight begins to fail due to an old injury, Tae-ok seeks to find a treatment for him. When she is captured and taken away by slave trader Gurutai, Tae-yul is forced to raise his sword again in order to save her. 

South Korea cinema does a lot of thing right and none more so than their historical dramas. Usually these are set in the Joseon period and are deeply personal and blood soaked tales of revenge or salvation. This one is no different with our titular Swordsman fighting all enemies to retrieve his daughter who has been stolen by a royal to impersonate his own daughter.

Every character acts by his own code of honor and in the end that is what brings them into conflict with each other. They either live or die by that code and that makes everything very simple. The Way of the Sword like the Way of the Warrior is a different path for everyman. However, regardless of the Path, it is always a blood soaked journey and everyone goes into the game knowing the rules. Every fight is to the death and some things, such as honor are more important than life itself.

The fight choreography is amazing as the Swordsman goes through dozens of highly trained enemies on his way to kill men even more powerful than he is. As a fighter and a partially blind one at that, he has no equal. Where he finds his resolve can only come from a deep love that a father has for a child. That is an element that distinguishes a Korean historical drama from all the others - love for family in whatever form it's found is EVERYTHING. It's the central understanding that all such movies are built upon.

This is the kind of movie where you can tell the powerful from the soldiers and the ordinary people by the type of hat that they wear. I love the costumes from that period in history. You can tell the status a person has in society by what they wore on their head. It makes perfect sense to a people ruled by rules and status and almost universally uneducated. Also make it convenient to know WHO your are killing because to kill a powerful person is never without it's consequences. Look to the hats. Always look to the HATS before you start swinging your broken sword, Swordsman.

Sometime the film meanders about but the final confrontation lives up to all the hype that builds throughout the film. It's all very satisfying in the end.

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