Director: Myung-se Lee
Cast: Ji-won Ha, Sung-kee Ahn, Dong-won Kang
Synopsis: A young police officer named Namsoon and her fellow officers discovers a counterfeit ring operating out of the area they’ve been assigned to protect.
Duelist (Hyeongsa) is such an incredibly beautiful film that you get the impression director Myung-Se Lee is somewhat in awe of the images he is creating. So much in awe, in fact, that he doesn’t quite know when to stop. Sadly, the lush visuals are pretty much all he can offer us, as Duelist’s story is so thin as to be non-existent, which is a real shame because, had there been a story to match the images then this would probably already be considered a classic.
Cute Ji-won Ha plays Namsoon, a young police detective in medieval Korea who, with the aid of her older partner Detective Ahn (Sung-kee Ahn) is on the trail of a counterfeit gang with plans to topple the Joseon dynasty. Embroiled in this conspiracy is a mysterious and waspish young man (Dong-won Kang) with incredible swordplay skills with whom Ji-won finds herself falling in love.
The story, such as it is, repeatedly changes hats, pausing every now and then to inject some ill-advised (for western audiences) humour, before deciding it had better get back to creating some more breath-taking visuals. Too often, though, this involves a lot of slow motion sword-fighting, choreographed like a ballet at times, often in heavy rain or snow fall so that the silvery drops can add to the beauty. For all the swordplay, there is little or no blood (or violence to speak of) which is no doubt why the film earned a 12 rating in the UK. Sometimes, Lee’s preoccupation with visuals grows a little pretentious and prevents the story from moving forward, but for the most part they keep you interested when the story does not. Mention should also be made of the eclectic choice of music — everything from brass band to classical to rock — and the way it is used, and the expert use of sound.