Every year over 100 films are made in Korea but only a dozen or so are marketed overseas. Blades of Blood is one of these and my guess is the film’s producers were hoping that foreign audiences would find something to connect with in this expensive and frequently gloomy enterprise because it certainly didn’t at home. The film only managed 200,000 admissions, a far cry from break-even point. The film features major, bankable stars, is technically competent, and can be quite good at times, so why did it flounder so badly?
The film is more than passable, if somewhat unremarkable, and I’m sure the filmmakers were a little surprised by its poor showing. Out of the two marquee names, Hwang Jeong-min is very good as the blind swordsman Hwang (more than a little reminiscent of Zatoichi) but Cha Seoung-won is problematic as the ambivalent villain Mong-hak. This perception could be entirely my own since I associate him with Kim Sang-jin’s blithely irreverent comedies. Cha portrays characters who are always over-the-top, goofy, and unsure of themselves: a disrespectful youth in Attack the Gas Station (1999); the fighting teacher in Kick the Moon (2001); the wannabe homeowner in Ghost Story (2004); or even as the jailed father in A Day With My Son (2007). To see him in such a startlingly different role is jarring and I couldn’t really get over it. Hwang on the other hand is familiar with oddball characters, A Man Who Was Superman (2007) being a great example, and he excels and seems to revel in this role.
I think the film’s major flaw, at least what pervaded most of its running time, was the uneven plotting and the plodding exposition that went along with it. From the very beginning I had a little trouble following what was going on. I knew there was a rebellion that were forced to compromise and Mong-hwa wasn’t going along with it, he set out hellbent on revenge (possibly, I’m not sure) and killed Gyeon-ja's family. Then Gyeon-ja and Hwang (a former member of the rebellious alliance) went after Mong-hak. There’s also something about the Japanese invading, the rival faction in the King’s court, and a girl but she is so poorly written I can’t quite figure the role she played in it all.
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