Release Date: 12/3/10
Written And Directed By: Sngmoo Lee
Cast: Jang Dong Gun, Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush, Ti Lung, Danny Huston, Tony Cox
Hmmm... I'm not sure what to think about this samurai vs. ninja vs. cowboys vs. circus people film. I kept wanting it to be something else, and its off-center presentation and unabashed silliness was constantly wrestling with my sense of reason. The story concerns a swordsman named Yang (sexy Jang Dong Gun) and his quest to become the greatest swordsman in the world. His heart turns when he can't kill the daughter of his strongest enemy, so he adopts the helpless infant and becomes his own clan's number one enemy. He flees to America to seek the guidance of an old friend, and finds himself in a run-down circus town in the middle of a desert. There, he meets a feisty young woman named Lynne (Kate Bosworth) and abandons the sword for the simple life of a laundry man. But the past always has a way of catching up to people, as a group of lawless soldiers comes into town to rape and pillage, followed by a band of ninja led by Yang's former master (kung fu veteran Ti Lung). The whimsical tone of the film violently shifts to a brutal massacre as all of the various elements clash in a bloody free-for-all showdown.
The film was shot mostly on virtual sets, which gives it a very bizarre comic book look and feel. The lighting is all wrong and the colors are bright and garish. It also looks like the state of the art about ten years ago, which makes the presentation even more jarring. The action scenes are a confusing mess of wirework, slow motion, fast motion, rapid cuts, and extreme camera movement, which alternates between entertaining and annoying. By far the best thing about the film is Jang Dong Gun's stoic presence. He's absolutely perfect, and he looks like a decent martial artist as well. His dialog is kept to a bare minimum, which makes him even more enigmatic. A twitchy Kate Bosworth is also fun to watch and is brimming over with unbridled passion and rage. Her spirited exchanges with Yang are highly entertaining, as they cross swords with the beauty and grace of lovers, and the explosive fury of repressed sexual frustration. (I've seen this theme from other Korean filmmakers as well) In fact, the romantic angle is probably the film's greatest triumph. The writing and characters are ridiculous, but the film doesn't care and is constantly moving forward at an aggressive pace. I suppose more than anything it resembles live action anime with its absurd setting and larger than life caricatures. Overall, the presentation feels immature and undisciplined. I could easily see coming up with something like this in my teens and early twenties, and while it's brimming with imagination and enthusiasm, it lacks focus and refinement. I'm still at odds with the film, and while I ultimately enjoyed it, I found too many detractors to be able to recommend it.