Memories of the Sword AKA Hyeomnyeo: Kar-ui gi-eok [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Well Go USA
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (12th February 2016).
The Film

During the Goryeo era, orphaned Seol-hee (Coin Locker Girl's Go-eun Kim) has trained from childhood under blind teahouse owner Wallso (The Housemaid remake's Do-yeon Jeon) to avenge the murders of her parents even though she knows nothing about them. On her way to the teahouse one day, she comes across the combat games of General Yu-baek (I Saw the Devil's Byung-hun Lee) and participates disguised as a man against the current challenger Yool (White: Melody of the Curse's Jun-Ho Lee). The general recognizes Seol-hee's fighting style and pursues her through the streets after the match where he tests her abilities himself, still under the impression that she is a man when she introduces herself using the name of Wallso's son Gam-cho before escaping. When the real Gam-cho informs Wallso of Seol-hee's performance at the games, she confronts the girl later that evening and reveals that her father was Poong-chun (After the Banquet's Soo-bin Bae) who lead an uprising against the district's governor and held his son Jon-bok (Joint Security Area's Tae-woo Kim) for ransom. He was betrayed and murdered by his two lifelong friends Deok-gi and Seol-rang. Deok-gi also kills Poong-chun's wife and apparently his infant child Hong-ee, but his remorseful lover Seol-rang disappears with the child after swearing that one day Hong-ee will avenge her parents and kill both of them. Wallso reveals that Seol-hee is Hong-ee and that General Yu-baek is actually Deok-gi, now favored advisor to the governor's son. Wallso then devastates the girl by revealing that she is actually Seol-rang. Knowing that the general will be coming for them, Seol-rang gives Seol-hee her father's sword and banishes her from the house, expecting that the next time they meet will mean death for one of them. When the general's men come to take Seol-rang, the blind woman puts up an extraordinary fight but gives up when she realizes that the soldiers have killed Gam-cho (Deok-gi not knowing the real Gam-cho is a child and ordering his death). Unaware of this, Seol-hee gets drunk at a local teahouse and is inadvertently hidden away by Yool who is shocked to discover that his challenger at the combat games was a woman. When she finally sobers up, Seol-hee discovers Wallso's teahouse in ruin and that Gam-cho has been killed; whereupon she resolves to avenge him. Sneaking into the governor's palace, she tries to murder the general but is mortally wounded and dismissed as an imposter even though the captive Seol-rang tells him once again that they will be killed by Hong-ee. Told to dispose of Seol-hee's body, Yool offered a post by the general after his performance at the combat games instead brings her to a healer who turns out to have been Poong-chun, Deok-gi, and Seol-rang's teacher (National Security's Kyeong-yeong Lee) and trains her to fight (after revealing to her another twist in the life story that has been concealed from her). Meanwhile, Deok-gi promoted to Chancellor after the murders of his rivals as well as the Jon-Bok has overseen the completion of Mu-ryung Palace for the Princess Hun-hwa and has plans for the throne himself.

A variation on the vengeance motif of most martial arts and medieval swordplay movies, Memories of the Sword boasts an outlandish amount of plot twists that heap all manner of physical, psychological, and emotional abuse upon a heroine who is required to cry by the bucket loads (although it does seem to be the only human reaction to much of what happens to her), and who could only have gone mad in the tragic aftermath (indeed, it is difficult to determine if the coda is supposed to be uplifting or to demonstrate a recurring cycle of dysfunction). The plot veers between the general's machinations with the help of Yool who is mostly peripheral to the film and refreshingly does not romantically complicate things for Seol-hee and Seol-hee's training, with the former being more interesting but muddled in the specifics. Performances are universally excellent, and the sets (both physical and digitally-realized) as well as costume designs are handsome as hell as captured by cinematographer Byung-seo Kim (the Chinese 2012 Danerous Liaisons remake); even the extenstive DI color correction could be described as "painterly." The digital matte paintings are handsome but the CGI enhancements mar the visuals, with the extreme long shot digital doubling of Seol-hee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-esque wire work looking quite cartoonish. The fight scenes are not so much uninspired as lacking anything we have not seen before in choreography, editing, or camera technique. While the dramatics of Memories of the Sword are almost soap opera-ish, it remains a handsomely-mounted and well-acted diversion.


No problems with Well Go USA's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.40:1 encode which is crisp and colorful throughout (even to the extent of revealing the artifice of a handful of digital matte paintings and some unfortunate instances of bad CGI).


The Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is immersive when it comes to the sword clangs, flying and swooping, the individual rain drops in the slow motion fight scenes, and the scoring of the mononymous Mowg (The Last Stand).


There are no extras other than the theatrical trailer (1:43) and previews for other titles (as start-up and selectable from the main menu).


While the dramatics of Memories of the Sword are almost soap opera-ish, it remains a handsomely-mounted and well-acted diversion.

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: F Overall: B-


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