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Featured DVD Review: Blades of Blood

September 18th, 2011

Blades of Blood - Buy from Amazon

Blades of Blood, or as it is known in its native South Korea, Goo-reu-meul beo-eo-nan dal-cheo-reom. Good lord, that's a long name. Blades of Blood is a historical drama / martial arts movie, and let's face it, that is a crowded genre. Will this film be worth checking out for fans of the genre? Perhaps even worth picking up?

The Movie

Blades of Blood is set in South Korea on the eve of a Japanese invasion. An alliance between factions is formed to stop this invasion, but the King sees this as a threat to his power and orders it dissolved. The leader of the alliance, Jung Yul-Ip, commits suicide, but that doesn't stop the king from having him beheaded, along with his family and the co-conspirators. The new leader of the alliance, Lee Mong-hak, decides to push forward with greater force rather than back down, starting with slaughtering the Han clan. One of the few surviving members is Gyeon Ja, the illegitimate son of the leader of the clan. Because he's the son of a concubine, he's ostracized by the other members of the clan, including his father. But when Lee Mong-hak kills his father, Gyeon Ja still tries for revenge. His first attempt ends with him bleeding to death on the ground. Fortunately, Lee Mong-hak's former mentor, Hwang Jung Hak, is there. While he is blind, he is still a great doctor, and a master swordsman as well. After Hwang Jung Hak saves Gyeon Ja's life and helps him recuperate, the pair head off to defeat Lee Mong-hak. Gyeon Ja wants revenge for killing his father. Hwang Jung Hak wants revenge for Lee Mong-hak killing Jung Yul-Ip. Along their journey they meet Baek Ji, Lee Mong-hak's lover, who is still in love with him, but at the same time wants him dead.

Meanwhile, Lee Mong-hak hasn't given up his quest to unite Korea, under his leadership, of course, and has begun attacking the government to build his power. The king has trouble containing this open rebellion, because whatever the eastern cabinet says, the western cabinet will deny, even if they know it to be true. And the opposite is also true. Whatever the west says, the east will claim the opposite. It's no surprise Lee Mong-hak believe Korea will fall to Japan with this dysfunctional government in charge.

Blades of Blood is essentially two movies. The first is a road trip / revenge film with Gyeon Ja and Hwang Jung Hak trying to find Lee Mong-hak, with the latter training the former along the way. The second is a political intrigue / historical epic. Both parts work, although personal preference might mean you prefer one part over the other by varying degrees. Quite frankly, I'm not sure which part I liked better. In fact, if I watched it again, it would depend on what I was interested in seeing. There's quite a bit of humor in the road trip story, as Hwang Jung Hak is not your average martial arts mentor. His idea of training is hitting Gyeon Ja in the head with his walking stick when he least expects it. He also had a bawdy sense of humor, as seen when the pair visit a Gisaeng house. (It's like a Korean brothel, only more respectable, as having concubines is seen as a normal part of life.) On the other hand, the Lee Mong-hak storyline is a lot darker, but also feels bigger and more important in the grand scheme of things. Both parts work, but I don't know if they work well in the same movie. It's a tough balancing act.

As a period piece, the production values are incredible, while the cinematography is great. The many action scenes are very well shot and this includes the large scale fights and the one-on-one battle. The acting is top notch, especially Jeong-min Hwang as the blind swordsman Hwang Jeong-Hak. (I do suggest watching the film in the original Korean, as the dubbing is cheesy.)

The Extras

Extras include a seven-minute making of featurette and six minutes of interviews with the four main actors.

The Verdict

Blades of Blood is one of the better examples of the genre and apart from a couple of minor issues integrating two rather different storylines into one movie, I have no real complaints. The DVD doesn't have a lot of extras, but I can still recommend a purchase over just a rental.

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