Flash Review: The Swordsman [Movie]

If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you’d know that I get reflexive stars in my eyes, whenever Jang Hyuk gets to put his Fantastic Fight Skillz on display.

Which is why I knew I definitely wanted to check out this movie, once I discovered that it had become available.

All in all, it’s a pretty enjoyable watch – with some lens adjustments, which I’ll talk about shortly.

Psst: Links to watch are at the end of the review!

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Tae Yul (Jang Hyuk), the best swordsman in Joseon, lives as a recluse in the mountains with his daughter, Tae Ok (Kim Hyun Soo).

In her efforts to find a cure for her father’s failing eyesight, Tae Ok finds herself captured by slave traders. Tae Yul raises his sword again, to save her.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

Here are a few things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:

1. It’s not necessary to follow the political stuff too closely.

There’s a political background to this story, but honestly, at its heart, this one strikes me as a pretty straightforward cowboy sort of movie.

It’s clear who the bad guys are, and who the good guys are, and it’s all about them facing off to varying degrees, pretty much all of the way through.

Which means..

2. Don’t expect much nuance, in general.

Show portrays the Joseon bad guys as bad, but the bad guys from Qing are made out to be much, much worse.

I don’t think Show means this personally (for example, if you are of Chinese descent, like I am); it’s just part of the cowboy movie approach to this story.

3. This is a Jang Hyuk showcase.

This entire movie is very much a Jang Hyuk showcase, and with good reason, since his fighting form is beautiful and graceful, and just very enjoyable to behold.

Just remember that Tae Yul is the Best Swordsman in Joseon, and therefore, is able to singlehandedly take down a legion of enemies.

That suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite, when signing up for this show.

4. Lots of people get killed along the way.

Maybe it goes without saying, but I thought I should say it anyway, in case it’s helpful to any of you.

This is a sword-fighting extravaganza in the spirit of a cowboy flick, and lots of blood gets shed, by extras and characters alike.

On the upside, though, for the high body count, it’s not really very bloody at all. I’d say it’s about a 3/10, on the Bloody Scale. So even if you’re squeamish about blood on your screen, you should be able to tolerate this one just fine, I think.

STUFF I LIKED

Mainly, I just really liked watching Jang Hyuk in this, heh. 🤩

For one thing, like I just mentioned, his fighting form is glorious and beautiful, and the story and fight choreography is all designed to showcase that, to maximum effect.

Another thing is, I had fun imagining in my head, that Dae Gil, Jang Hyuk’s character from Chuno (review is here, and Open Threads are listed here), had secretly retired to the mountains, as Tae Yul.

In my head, Dae Gil had adopted Tae Ok, because he’d taken pity on the orphan girl, and had taken her to live quietly in the mountains, and raise her as his own. And yet, somehow, there’s a Jumo who’s still sweet on him, the way the two Jumos were sweet on General Choi, in Chuno. 😁

I know. It sometimes doesn’t take very much to amuse me, heh. 😅

This alternative narrative really captured my imagination, though, so while I largely let my brain gloss over the political background of this story, my brain happily replaced the context of this story, with this stuff that I made up in my head. 😁

One other thing I did like, was Tae Yul’s relationship with Tae Ok. Their father-daughter bond is sweet, and I can totally see that she is his whole world, and he is hers.

Which makes it easy to see why Tae Yul would throw his entire being, into saving her, when she finds herself in danger. That’s really all the realism and convincing that I needed, in this story.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

As we get into the final stretch of the movie, the fight scenes become more frequent and more high-stakes, and I feel like that’s par for the course, for this type of film.

To be brutally honest, I didn’t really feel bad for any of the characters who die in the process, even though the death of Other Excellent Swordsman (Jung Man Shik) feels rather unnecessary.

Also, not gonna lie. Even though it doesn’t really make sense to me that Tae Yul randomly slit the throat of the token Westerner woman (Angelina Danilova) while dueling with Gurutai (Joe Taslim), since that would cause Gurutai to want to take it out on Tae Ok, to spite Tae Yul, I did get a flash of gratification, just from seeing Gurutai’s shocked expression.

Yes, the almost blind dude is skilled enough to kill your token lover-assistant, while fully engaging your superior, condescending self in combat. 😏

To be honest, I hadn’t been super sure that Tae Yul &/or Tae Ok would survive our story, since Show’s body count is pretty darn high.

But in the end, Tae Yul does manage to save Tae Ok, and we even see that Tae Yul’s ready to come down from the mountain, to live among other people. That’s a happier ending than I had dared hope for, to be honest.

Not bad, all in all, I say.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

A reasonably enjoyable popcorn sword flick, with Jang Hyuk as the main draw.

FINAL GRADE: B

TRAILER:

WHERE TO WATCH:

You can check out this movie on Tubi, Amazon Prime, and iQIYI (VIP).

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Trent
5 months ago

So I just watched this last night, and it is as advertised, a fairly fun diversion of the “kinetic set-pieces of dudes using sharp pointy implements to visit mayhem on each other” variety.

(Just a point of order about the ending:

Ending scene spoilers
I agree that the death of Other Excellent Swordman felt gratuitous– JH won the fight and was prepared to walk away, we don’t need another demonstration of how Bad Guy is Bad — but I thought, on the other hand, that JH taking out the Euro-mistress was a reasonably smart bit of strategy, since 1) she had a knife at daughter’s neck, and thus daughter was at immediate risk of any whim or shift of fortunes during the fight, and also represented a lever/hostage over JH’s behavior, and 2) yes, it put her in danger of immediate retaliation from Bad Guy, but JH was going to protect her anyway, and the trade-off is an enraged Bad Guy who may not be thinking as clearly or reacting as smartly during the fight.

But overall assessment: pretty good entertainment, if you don’t mind blood (although not super-graphic, surprisingly), a high body count, and dudes choppin’ on each other with swords…

Yllejord
Yllejord
5 months ago

The fight scenes were lovely, but I got kinda bored until we finally got to them.
When you have this kind of story, where you enter knowing exactly what is going to happen and you’re just waiting for it to start, the bet is to find something really, really interesting to happen until then. But this movie didn’t.
Just show us one and a half hour of Jang Hyuk fighting, we don’t need any plot, honestly we don’t.

beez
5 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

No exaggeration. *echo*

eda harris
eda harris
5 months ago

KFG, you definitely made my day, and totally my morning – the swordsman being a cowboy movie – i could not stop laughing – i do not remember when something tickled my imagination that much. i hate cowboy movies, but korean cowboy movie – that’s pretty hilarious, just the thought of it. anyway, thank you for that.

and of course, like you, i watched it because of dae gil (aka chuno), his fighting and (i must admit) his body.
the story itself is very simple, a bit too simple for my taste, but of course the major attraction is jang hyuk’s fighting “dance”. he’s really one of best, if not the best, actually the only one better in that is himura kenshin from rurouni kenshini series (his form and in general fighting scenes are impressively beautiful, simply awe-inspiring), but of course i have not seen too many of such things, so i admit, there might be others that i am not familiar with.

and now the major part – KFG, i completely got into YOUR head, (don’t blame me, you did it).

Chuno spoilers
dae gil ALIVE, (ok, almost blind, but still fighting and winning) raising a daughter in the mountains- that almost entirely relieved my stress and pain caused by chuno’s ending for the longest and i could not shake it off. now, i keep fantasizing about their life, and it is such a relief.

now i have a whole other drama in my head – and i think of this movie from a completely deferent angle, and it is sooooooooooo good. thanks.

o, and one more question left in my head after this movie, “where did gurutai obtain an american barbie doll for himself, before she was even popular?” (that’s my private joke from this movie).

Last edited 5 months ago by kfangurl
eda harris
eda harris
5 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

kfg, sorry, and thank you. but i was totally unaware of any spoilers in that, i still do not know. and do not see any “spoiler” now, attached to my comment. could you please let me know, so i’d be aware of it in the future. if need, just email me.
my apologies and thanks again.

eda harris
eda harris
5 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

thanks, i now get it. sorry again.

beez
5 months ago
Reply to  eda harris

@eda – here’s an actual Korean cowboy movie with your boy, Lee Byung hun dressed as the man in black. https://asianwiki.com/The_Good,_The_Bad,_The_Weird

eda harris
eda harris
5 months ago
Reply to  beez

beez,
how about we exchange – you watch all in with me, and i’ll watch the good, the bad, the weird with you? would that work for you, kind of what we did with lost in 1949.
but thanks anyway, i’ll definitely put it on my list.

beez
5 months ago
Reply to  eda harris

No can do, eda, because The Good, the Bad, and the Weird is a movie but All In is investing some serious drama watching hours. Not a fair exchange.

eda harris
eda harris
5 months ago
Reply to  beez

beez,  Not a fair exchange.
you are right, my apologies. i actually got it after i made the suggestion, but did not know how to cancel this.

beez
5 months ago
Reply to  eda harris

It’s all good. (check your email)

BE
BE
5 months ago
Reply to  beez

It’d now available on YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSC51fApNs4
Song Kang Ho gets top billing as his stature as a K movie actor warrants, but I believe this take on Leone and Eastwood was what brought the great Lee Byung Hun to the American filmmakers’ attention.

BE
BE
5 months ago
Reply to  BE

Once I realized it was on youtube I checked it out myself. It is wonderful, but as bad boy as Lee Byung Hun is in this, this is not even close to his better roles, in which he is given the opportunity to do more realistic character roles. Song Kang Ho, however, is just terrific, in his role as the indestructible while looking foolish doing so scalawag, and the whole is a wonderful bit of Korean comedic/bloody action mashup. I would give it a B+ as a movie, and an A for that kind of genre. There are capers in this spaghetti sauce K Western.

Ele Nash
5 months ago

Ah, I love your adjusted lens: Daegil lives on! Blind! But still a fighter with boundless skills and a grumpy heart full of sincerity 😍 I watched this one as breezily as I could – I think Korean films in general are just not quite my cup of tea in the way their TV shows usually are 🤔 But, hey, it’s got Jang Hyuk so of course it had my utmost attention and adoration 😅 He is spectacular in motion!! And so good in those ‘on the edge of society and not wholly law-abiding’ roles – oh, and his hair was a nest but he still rocked it – argh, his voice – oof, the swagger – loyalty – tenacity…
*rambles on for half a century about how wonderful Jang Hyuk is… don’t mind me… 😉

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
5 months ago

I watched this movie last year and liked it. I agree with your grade. It is not the most subtle movie, but still very enjoyable. I was pleasantly surprised by the final reveal.
The thought of middle-aged Dae Gil finding peace and quiet in the mountains is rather comforting, so I am embracing it wholeheartedly.

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
5 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Take Yul does what Song Take Ha was doing in Chuno – vanquish enemies with just a shoulder shrug!😂

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
5 months ago
Reply to  Snow Flower

Tae Yul and Tae Ha. Autocomplete strikes again!

beez
5 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

@KFG – did you watch an animae show called Champloon Samurai? First, I became aware of it because in your original review of Chuno, you linked to another blogger’s review and she mentioned the animae. It really does feel like spending more time with the characters from Chuno continuing their road trip – although this time it would be Dae gil, Tae ha, and Seol-Hwa. As usual, “the boys” are constantly challenging each other and she has to keep the peace.

beez
5 months ago

– I’ve been waiting for your thoughts on this one. I agree not much story here. I think of it as Liam Nissom’s “Taken” in Joseon. And that’s enough for what this is – action and more action.

Do you know who the actor is that played young Tae yul?

And of course, Jang Hyuk is always exciting to watch, especially when he’s moving.

There was an article that came out back when the movie was first released where actor-martial artist Joe Taslim (the villain) was talking about how he managed to injure Jang Hyuk (accidentally). But he spoke with such enthusiasm that you could tell that the idea that he injured (not seriously) Jang Hyuk was exciting to him. I loved that someone who is an active competitive champion respects Jang Hyuk’s skills enough that he was as excited as a kid would be to tell the world they landed a punch on Mohammed Ali, no matter how accidental it was.

Last edited 5 months ago by beez
beez
5 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Thanks, KFG, they made the young idol look as if he had mad skills with a sword. I mean, I know they can do that but I thought since Jang Hyuk is a martial artist and they chose Joe Taslim despite his not speaking Korean – so I thought they might’ve gone with real martial artists for all the action roles.

I’m a little disappointed as I thought the next generation Jang Hyuk is up and coming to give me a new bias as my old ones are becoming ahjusshis.

beez
5 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

We’ll see. I’ll have to keep an eye out for him. Hopefully he hasn’t been to military service yet. Look what it did for Park Hyunsik.

Timescout
5 months ago
Reply to  beez

Ah, BtoB – one of the goofiest kpop groups around with powerful vocalists. People are probably better acquainted with another acting BtoB member, Yook Sung Jae. 🙂

Well, Minhyk’s done and dusted with his military service and he was discharged just before this movie was released in Sept 2020. He’s always been known for being very athletic and I have vague recollections of reading somewhere that he trained really hard for this part.

The group actually incorporated Minhyk’s “sword dance” in their performance @ Mnet’s Kingdom.

Last edited 5 months ago by Timescout
beez
5 months ago
Reply to  Timescout

@Timescout – thanks for the link. That’s some interesting dissonant harmony they chose at 2:15