Director Park Heung-Sik doesn't give you room to settle by introducing you his vision for this movie in the first 5 minutes; Large, sweeping shots of a field full of sunflowers while the protagonist is enveloped in golden streaks of sunlight as she rushes through town and ends up watching a fast paced, dramatically cut fight scene.
Though despite the visual onslaught of slow motion action, this movie is still a drama. Veteran actors of Lee and Jeon give great performances of their fallen hero characters, while newcomers like Kim Go-Eun and Lee Jun-Ho are definite grabs for the younger audience. All in all, this is a great looking film, but it really doesn't break any walls. And it doesn't mean to.
This movie is beautifully shot and has the formula down to the basics: Shoot it wide, push in, let the drama play out, back out to wide again as the scene ends. This also applies to many, if not all, of the action scenes in this movie, so if you were looking for a martial arts action film, this really isn't what you're looking for. Many of the fights are filmed with emotion in mind; and in Korean dramas, that's a lot of wide swinging and crying and/or yelling...but in this movie, with swords.
In that aspect, the fight scenes are still enjoyable if you take it for what it is. I would hate to compare it Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but there are so many similarities that it's hard to ignore. There is even a training scene where Lee Gyeong-Yeong as the Master of Masters teaches our lead female actress the way of the sword and it mirrors the bamboo forest battle between Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) and Jen (Zhang Ziyi). It even shares the same shots, but minus the choreography of Yuen Wo-ping.
Also, since this is a Korean drama, there were a few plot twists that caught me off guard. I should have expected it but it definitely makes the story much more interesting as coming into the movie, it felt like a typical drama set in the Goryeo era. As I've said before, Lee and Jeon are amazing to watch while Kim's character goes through massive changes after each piece of the puzzle slowly comes together to forge her resolve for vengeance in a lengthy assault on palace grounds filled with overly abused speed ramps and Korean style whip-zoom-cuts with nods to chanbara films.
Overall, Memories Of The Sword is an enjoyable film if you're looking for something to watch this summer. The story does not disappoint, even if it felt slow at times, the action is still solid with a few bits of "ooh" moments, and the acting is definitely great.
Well Go USA is releasing the film on August 28 in select areas in the U.S. and Canada. Stay tuned for an official trailer!