If you are an ardent fan of director Lee Myung-se
" is more than a must-see film at this point. After a six-year break since his 1999 hit "Nowhere To Hide
", Lee has finally come back with this action-packed drama that defies expectations in an intriguing way.
" (Hyeongsa in Korean) highlights Lee's distinctive and seasoned filmmaking style: colors explode everywhere, the speed of actions slows or accelerates in an extreme fashion and the story charges ahead at a heady pace.
In fact, it is hardly surprising that director Lee showcases forward-looking filmmaking techniques in "Duelist
". Since his debut in 1988, he has consistently proven his talent in breaking new ground in a series of high-profile films.
This time around, however, the pressure was greater than ever. The production cost alone was 7.8 billion won, and Korea's top stars took up the title roles.
The level of expectations from both investors and moviegoers has shot up. Yet director Lee hasn't opted for an easy formula to be commercially successful; instead, he has created a new cinematic world where characters are jumping and running around dazzling images.
Set in the Joseon Dynasty period, Nam-sun (Ha Ji-won
) is a female police officer known for her quick and hot temper when it comes to nabbing nasty criminals. Her boss (Ahn Sung-ki
) is much calmer and down-to-earth, with his years of experience in the field as a guidepost for Nam-sun.
A series of incidents befuddle both Nam-sun and her boss. While top politicians are squabbling with each other, counterfeit bills circulate throughout the city, creating confusion among the people. Whenever police officers attempt to secure clues, they get lethal attacks from the mysterious agent "Sad Eyes".
Nam-sun and her colleagues suspect that one of the top politicians is behind the scheme. Predestination or not, she begins to have a crush on Sad Eyes, and vice versa, and the momentum comes from their first encounter to kill each other.
With the moon pouring down a beautiful stream of blue light, Nam-sun has a showdown with Sad Eyes in a narrow back alley. Pitch black shadows divide the space in half, showing and hiding their actions alternately, with their weapons emitting bright sparkles, reflecting off the moon above.
The scene is stunningly clever and stylish, even though somewhat unrealistic. What matters, however, is that the audience may not have enough time to think about such fantasy-like storytelling because of the sheer action and overwhelming visual effects.
On the face of it, "Duelist
" deals with the issue of corruption and takes on a history-drama formula. But, deep down, it's basically a melodrama, as does its original cartoon series created by Ban Hak-ki. More important, actress Ha played the title role for the hugely popular TV version titled "Damo
", which leads a majority of moviegoers to expect similar images from the movie version.
But the movie version is quite different from the TV series in many ways. The basic plot may be the same - a female police officer falls in love with a lonely, mysterious bad buy - but director Lee has turned it into a unique visual spectacle.
A striking example is the opening scene where a group of police officers are running through the crowded marketplace to chase after criminals in broad daylight. With slow-motion technique dominating the screen, director Lee shows actors gliding through a host of places, with visually stimulating images popping up one after another.
But therein lies the drawback: the slow-motion technique is used too frequently throughout the movie. Some viewers, especially those who expect something other than visual effects, might regard it as a good reason to doze off a little bit.
Actress Ha seems at her best when she doesn't pretend to be a tomboy-like female officer. Meanwhile, Kang, one of the country's most sought-after heartthrobs, manages to retain his cute-and-handsome boy image by playing Sad Eyes, well, just sadly. But it is puzzling why his eyes should be covered by his long hair for the most part - to the great sadness of many female fans eager to get a glimpse of the star.
By Yang Sung-jin