The Sword with No Name could have been a great movie if the storytellers realized that not everyone knows the history behind Korea’s Queen Min. Viewers who are not familiar with the backstory of Korea’s relationship with Japan, the Joseon Dynasty or the First Sino-Japanese War, will be lost for most of the film. Since the core of The Sword with No Name is a love story, the dense political details often get lost. You’ll never quite get what’s going on with Russia, Catholicism, the Japanese and the internal civil war in the royal family. Decisions and motivations tend to jump around often, to focus more on the fabricated relationship between Empress Myeong-seong (Soo Ae) and Moo-myeong (Seung-woo Cho). Still there are several beautiful cinematic sequences. Some of the fight sequences look like they inspired the vivid fight sequences in Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. The drama is there, it just needed some additional time to breath.
Just before the end of the nineteenth century, several Asian countries faced the threat of foreign imperialism. For Korea, Queen Min worked diligently to hamper Japanese influence in Korea. She developed stronger ties with Russia in order to block Japanese expansion. That’s the story you needed to know or at least have the general idea of before watching the film.
The Sword with No Name begins with an arranged marriage between Myeong-seong and King Gojong. Just before they are wed, Myeong-seong meets Moo-myeong, a rogue who gave up his given name Johannes. The two develop a relationship that could never be do to Myeong-seong’s duty as queen. In order to be closer to the queen, Moo-myeong earns a place in Gojong’s court by testing out a prototype for a bulletproof vest. Guns were bad, even in the 1800s. Tensions begin to rise when Queen Min begins to exercise too much political power. Her relationship with the Russians is perceived as a threat to Gojong’s father. Eventually, Gojong’s father works to have the queen assassinated.
The intense love story between the two never quite comes to fruition since this is historical fiction. However, you can always sense the growing emotions between Myeong-seong and Moo-myeong. Soo Ae is simply amazing in every scene. You sense her conflicted inner turmoil of love versus duty.
There are two brilliant fight scenes in the movie between Moo-myeong and Gojong’s father’s main guard, Noe-jeon (Jae-woong Choi). The first takes place on a boat. It will be hard not to jump out of your seat when you see it. There’s a lot of slow motion attack sequences and some terrific stunt fish work. You’ll just have to see it. The second major fight between the two doesn’t have quite the same impact. By the time it takes place, you will have forgotten that this movie had any fighting at all. However, once it hits, the visuals are spectacular. The two accidentally fight there way into a banquet. Instead of disrupting the banquet, the monarchy calls it a demonstration for entertainment. Then, instead of seeing Noe-jeon and Moo-myeong fight at the banquet, the scene cuts over into an icy world for the fight to take place. It’s a highly imaginative scene and superbly executed.
The Blu-ray release comes with a few behind-the-scenes special features presented in 480i standard definition. These include making of videos and cast interviews. The audio is presented with its original Korean language track in Dolby TrueHD 2.0. You can also watch with English 1.5 TrueHD and subtitles. I can’t say that I’m a fan of the English dialogue. It seemed to use some of the more sporadic Anime voices for its secondary characters. These were quite annoying, especially Moo-myeong’s friends. So if you’re a purist, it’s better to go with the original language. The subtitles aren’t great, but they do a good enough job in delivering the choppy political backstory.
– Making The Sword with No Name (Korean audio w/English subtitles)
– Cast interviews (Korean audio w/English subtitles)
– Teaser trailer (Korean audio w/English subtitles)
– Main trailer (Korean audio w/English subtitles)
– Coming soon