Martial arts magic pretending to be historical drama.


Memories of the Sword is a Korean epic of betrayal, love, and lots and lots of jump cuts. The film focuses on young warrior Seol-hee (played by Go-eun Kim), who is the last living child of a legendary warrior. Her father was betrayed by his friends, as they chose to side with the corrupt emperor instead of him and the common people.

Seol-hee has been raised by another warrior who has trained her to seek revenge her entire life. The story of the film is presented piecemeal, and at more than one point, I wasn’t really sure what the audience was supposed to get out of certain scenes. The plot muddles quickly as the writers decided to have twist after twist in an effort to build suspense. Instead of the intended effect, you will likely see a lot of unneeded threads.

Unfortunately, the twists come so rapidly and so frequently that discussing the plot is rather difficult. The visual splendor of these films is in large part what will draw in audiences, and the set designs are amazing. The attention to detail of the medieval Korean world (albeit romanticized) is a pleasure to see. The palaces, battlefields, and nature are all framed quite well.
Regrettably, the combative elements, which is something audiences who like this genre are likely excited for, suffers from hacksaw editing. 13 cuts to jump over a tall flower. Dozens upon dozens of cuts in each fight make orientation impossible. Further, the skills don’t seem as impressive when it is clearly edited beyond reason.

Another annoying aspect is the need for slow-motion then fast-motion on the action scenes. These scenes are jarring as they don’t fit the aesthetic of the film, nor do they transition smoothly. Instead, the action is stop-start in an annoying way. Perhaps the worst sin is that all of the characters look bored during these battles, which made me bored.

An over-convoluted story, poor action pieces, and stiff characters create a bad mix that drags this movie down. Any of these flaws by themselves could be overlooked if the other aspects of the film worked, but together they make for a deeply flawed experience. You probably won’t hate the movie, but you will walk away thinking of ways it could be better. 5/10.   

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