The Swordsman (2020)

Posted in Reviews by - February 14, 2021
The Swordsman (2020)

Period action film from South Korea set during the tumultuous transition between the Ming and Qing dynasties – the backdrop for many, many kung fu films – which is both a broiling political revenge drama and a story about a father’s devotion to his child. It’s a credit to first-time writer-director Choi Jae-hoon that both themes fit so seamlessly and effectively together. Korean heartthrob Jang Hyuk is superb as the titular swordsman, Tae-yul; devout protector of the reigning Joseon dynasty monarch until a coup sees the king forced into exile. Tae-yul flees to the misty hills – hiding from the secular world in both a figurative and literal sense – to raise a baby girl in isolation. It is only when the girl enters adolescence and is kidnapped into slavery by the Manchu-led Qing rulers that Tae-yul steps up, cutting through ninja and single-handedly taking out a Qing rifle guard, all the while battling with increasingly impaired vision. The Manchurian invaders are depicted as uncouth, savage and unpredictable, personified by a husky-voiced slave trader played by Indonesian actor Joe Taslim, sporting a mullet and tash combo which is less Qing dynasty and more 1980s hair metal band. Taslim is infinitely watchable and he fills the screen with a menacing grace, mastering both an unfamiliar dialect and great skills with the blade. Much of the choreography is filmed at eye-level and close-up, giving a wonderfully immersive sense of being in the thick of the action, as well as revealing the intense physical demands being placed on its star, Jang Hyuk, who gives a committed performance. An overzealous ADR process, some incongruous wire gags and a clunky, contrived denouement are all relatively minor gripes. The film’s premise seems eerily prescient as South Korea continues to face a consistent undercurrent of threat from the north, despite the intervening 400 years. But putting politics to one side, this can still be easily consumed as a breezy and very well-made genre film.

The Swordsman is available on digital and Blu-ray in North America on 16 February 2021 courtesy of Well Go USA.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a keyboard in London, UK.

1 Comment

  • Ms Pauline Lamont

    Awesome giveaway 😍

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