Duelist (Korea 2005)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 4/22/07
Cast: Ha Ji-Won

Namsoon (feisty Ha Ji-Won) is a hot tempered, foul-mouthed, tomboy detective investigating a large scale counterfeit money operation in Korea. When a mysterious swordsman named "Sad Eyes" slays all of her prime suspects, tracking him down becomes her obsession. They cross swords several times, with each encounter being more fierce, more intense, and oddly more romantic. As sworn enemies, they can only express their blossoming forbidden love for each other through the intimate dance of armed combat, naked blades clashing and caressing each other in violent sexual fury. As the counterfeit investigation gets more serious, their doomed love affair comes to its inevitable climax.

Like so many Korean films, this one bounces across multiple genres. What starts out as a goofy action comedy turns into a weepy romantic tragedy about halfway through, which makes the film difficult to reconcile as a whole. The plot can be confusing and disjointed at times, and the actions and motivations of the characters are often hard to understand and identify with. Production wise, the film is absolutely stunning. The lighting and cinematography are gorgeous, and the film flows like a beautiful dance, albeit with some jarring and inappropriate editing here and there. As beautiful as the film is to watch, what really brings it to life is the superb performance by Ha Ji-Won. She's a cute and awkward bundle of repressed feminine fury just waiting to explode, and her emotional outbursts are captivating and quite moving. She also handles herself quite well in a fight, and the highly stylized and symbolic action sequences are mesmerizing. While style is definitely more important than execution in this film, the stuntwork is competent and still makes a good impression. Fans of Korean period action films should be pleased.