The plot in the South Korean martial-arts period-piece Memories of the Sword may verge on the incomprehensible but, boy, is it gorgeous.
Director Heung-Sik Park’s take on a classic Chinese wuxia tale — a medieval-set meshing of war, love and wire-work choreography where characters can become airborne as in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — bears all the classic elements of honor, betrayal and revenge.
While Park doesn’t do much new with these elements and the clanging action scenes aren’t particularly revolutionary, the film gets by on its ravishing good looks.
Go-eun Kim is Hong-yi (who later goes by Seol-hee), a girl who decides to use her considerable skills with the sword to avenge the death of her father. He was part of a peasant uprising while she was an infant but he and her mother were betrayed by his cohort Yoo-beak (Byung-Hun Lee). Yoo-beak is now the big guy in the kingdom.
It gets more complicated from there, and many viewers may just give up trying to follow what is going on. That’s just as well. Memories of the Sword is more a parade of striking images than a coherent story.
In Korean with English subtitles
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Memories of the Sword
Director: Heung-Sik Park
Cast: Byung-Hun Lee, Do-yeon Jeon, Go-eun Kim
Rated: Unrated (bloody martial-arts violence)
Running time: 121 min.