무영검 (Shadowless Sword) Press Screening Report

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Not something generally associated with Korean Cinema by both the local audience and overseas fans, the 무협 (muhyeop, Korean for wuxia) genre had always been moving beneath the surface of Chungmuro's most popular trends even since the 50s. Director Jung Chang-Hwa, a student of the great Choi In-Gyu - who's also Im Kwon-Taek's mentor - became the most influential figure in the development of Korean action films throughout the 60s, shooting 30 action films out of his total 51. When in 1958 he made his 망향 (Nostalgia), co-produced by Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers, few expected this to become the film which would pave the way for Jung's career in Hong Kong. Between 1967 and 1978 Jung worked for Shaw Brothers in the 'Hollywood of the East', directing classics like 天下第一拳 (Five Fingers of Death), and establishing himself as the representative Korean director in the action genre.

But thanks to Koreans' predilection for brutal, realistic streetfight-style action films, the harmony and grace showcased by Hong Kong wuxia films had never been able to find its own voice amongst Korean action films. Although Lee Dae-Geun's action films in the 70s were always popular, the development of Korean action films always seemed to gear towards the characters and the tone of the film, rarely concerned with how sophisticated and realistic the action was. Even going as far as the early 90s, Muhyeop films continued to be made, but the majority were just trying to bank on the popularity of HK films, never finding their own identity (both in a cultural sense, and in terms of action).

While the action scenes in Korean films kept improving, thanks to a small core group of influential action directors - which would forge today's elite, including Jung Doo-Hong - Martial Arts fantasy films were languishing in obscurity. With streetfights becoming more and more realistic, in films like Im Kwon-Taek's 장군의 아들 (The General's Son) and 테러리스트 (Terrorist), Martial Arts fantasy focused more on the melodrama than the action, like Lee Kyung-Young's 귀천도 (The Gate of Destiny).

But in 2000, something changed. Sure, Koreans still wanted realism over the spectacular exaggeration of wuxia, but some directors tried their hand at Hong Kong-styled Martial Arts film without either disrespecting the genre or clinging to easy copycat formulas. Based on an ultra-popular manhwa, Kim Young-Joon's 비천무 (Bichunmoo) promised to redraw the map of Wuxia in Korea. And if you look at the action, he did do that indeed: orchestrated by HK's Ma Yuk-Sing, the man behind the action in 笑傲江湖 之 東方不敗 (Swordsman) and 東方不敗 2: 風雲再起 (Swordsman 2), the film set new standards in the genre for Chungmuro.

But then again, people complained (rightfully) that the film didn't give justice to the work it was based from, and more importantly that the acting of stars Kim Hee-Sun and Shin Hyun-Joon ranged from average to pitiful. Although other Wuxia films were made, or at least elements of the genre used on many films, fans had to wait four years for another tentative to see some Korean made Muhyeop. What they got instead was Lee Myung-Se's 형사 (Duelist), which might have been marketed as a Wuxia film, but anybody acquainted with the director's past work would have told you not to expect your average Wuxia. After polarizing views dropped the film out of contention after a few weeks of release, the attention moved towards Kim Young-Joon's next project, 무영검 (Shadowless Sword).

Starring young and popular stars Yoon So-Yi and Lee Seo-Jin, model-turned-actress Lee Gi-Yong and one of director Kim's best friends Shin Hyun-Joon, the film's 8 Billion Won budget has been partially funded by New Line Cinema, which paved the way for lucrative distribution deals at the recent AFM, which took the burden of box office success completely off Kim's shoulders. Yes, every single Won 'Shadowless Sword' makes from now on will be pure profit, after the US$ 10 Million worth of contracts signed. The film will also screen in over 50 countries all over the world (including a wide release in the US and Canada) next year. 'Shadowless Sword' had its press screening today at the Seoul Cinema in Jong-Ro. Present at the premiere the director Kim Young-Joon and stars Shin Hyun-Joon, Yoon So-Yi, Lee Seo-Jin and Lee Gi-Yong.

Press Reaction

To describe the reaction of the critics to the film, I'd use common Korean slang: '2% 부족한 것 (Something lacking that 2%)'. Most people reacted that the action scenes were quite good, stylish and well choreographed, but there was nothing new or particularly creative about them. Similarly, although character development does have its space, the characters it fleshes out were not considered to be distancing too much from tradition. The acting, too, leaves a lot to be desired, apparently. But the biggest complaint (which could become a compliment, depending on where you stand vis-a-vis the 'HKness' of Korean Wuxia films), was that although 'Shadowless Sword' is an improvement over 'Bichunmoo', it doesn't seem to posses that unique identity distancing it from other Hong Kong or Chinese films of the same genre. Which, in short, means it lacked that special 2% to become a great film.

Comments and Interviews

Please introduce your characters and your impressions at the moment.
Director Kim Young-Joon: I prepared 'Shadowless Sword' for a long time, after much effort and struggles, years after making 'Bichunmoo'. The theme of the film centers on the loss of special things for the characters, and their efforts to regain them. What they lose might be their sense of history [the film is about Balhae's last King], or their own self.
Lee Seo-Jin: I'm still really nervous. My character keeps changing from beginning to end, so that was something really hard to portray, and the biggest problem was finding the right tone fitting those changes. I do have a few regrets, but since the film is releasing in theaters soon, I hope people will be satisfied by our work.
Yoon So-Yi: We just completed the film, so I'm still in a state of fatigue. It was an honour to star in such a stylish film. I play a female warrior who protects the Prince, who tries to find every way to make sure he'll become King, at all costs. We went through a lot to make this film over the last year, but I think our efforts paid back, as the film looks great.

Lee Gi-Yong: Since it was my first film, everything was difficult, and I learned a lot. My character Mae Young-Ok is the kind of woman who would endure everything for the man she loves, and she's full of envy as well. I might not have the experience right now, but I'll keep working hard to improve myself.

Shin Hyun-Joon: After completing the shoot, I think I'll remember both the film and the time spent shooting with my fellow actors, and the experiences we made together. I think I'll remember this film for a long time.

What was the hardest thing about the shoot in China?
Kim: It was really hard. I thought this time it'd be a little easier [after shooting 'Bichunmoo' in China], but we had a hard time with things like food and weather, perhaps because it was so different from Korea. Shooting there for more than six months, there were a lot of people who felt homesick and weaker. it was the same for the actors, especially the female cast and crew, away from home for such a long time. It was a really emotionally and physically draining environment, but I'm thankful people worked hard to make the best possible film.

Lee Seo-Jin: Because it was the first time I took action training, I thought it would be hard, but I think the shoot in China helped even more. I liked the fact we dedicated the entire day to the film, and had time to concentrate on the script. I spent two years in the military, but working on this film was much easier than the 6 weeks we spent training there. It must have been quite harder for Yoon So-Yi, though.
Yoon: Since we never really spent time away from home, I think Gi-Yong and I felt the most serious case of homesickness. But we were able to go through that thanks to the help we received from Shin Hyun-Joon and Lee Seo-Jin. I feel bad even saying that, since the female staff members had it much harder than us. It was really hard, but also fun, and something I think I'll remember for a long time.
Lee Gi-Yong: There was nothing really that hard, I even liked the food. But when we started training, I never thought it would be so intense, even though with time we adapted to it. One thing that really impressed me when we started shooting was how severe weather could get there.
Shin: The staff really had a hard time. It was really difficult, but something we will remember, and something we enjoyed.

Comparing 'Shadowless Sword' with 'Bichunmoo', what's the biggest difference?
Shin: Director Kim is a great friend, and while he spent the last 4 years working on this film, looking at him being so lonely and nervous was hard for me as well. But the moment I stepped in front of the camera in China, I felt those four years weren't spent in vain. 'Bichunmoo' was our film and we shot in China as well, but back then we went through many trials and errors, so we could never keep up with the schedule. We used all the things we learned shooting 'Bichunmoo' for 'Shadowless Sword', so those trials and errors ended up helping us a lot. I joked with Director Kim that since he shoots a film every 4 years he's become a 'World Cup' Director, but I hope this film gets good reviews, and he'll start making films once a year, or every two years.

After 'Bichunmoo', you've made another Wuxia film. Do you have a particular affection for the genre?
Kim: If you like action to begin with, you end up liking Wuxia too. Actually I thought Wuxia would be something I'd shoot later as I become older, but it ended up being my debut film. Back then we had a lot of up and downs, so I thought I'd never shoot a Wuxia film again. But thinking about it, using the know-how I acquired while shooting 'Bichunmoo' later would have been hard. I know it's not a genre that's successful at the box office, but I wanted to give it a try again. I think it was a a challenge against my fear of not making it. Of course people kept telling me to think about some other action film, but I wanted to try another Wuxia, no matter how long it would take. That was both something I promised myself, and I also wanted to make an upgraded, improved Wuxia film, a notch above the rest. While shooting, there were two points I stressed: one was to make something better than what foreigners were used to. The other was offering something a little different from what they saw in worldwide hits like 臥虎將龍 (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and 英雄 (Hero). Those films had elegant and graceful action scenes, but I did the opposite, focusing on powerful, rapid and very intense scenes.

Quick Judgment

Screen's Park Ji-Young
Film Quality: AVERAGE
Box Office Potential: GOOD

Movieweek's Kim Soo-Yeon

Film Quality: AVERAGE
Box Office Potential: AVERAGE

Cineseoul's Na Ha-Na
Film Quality: AVERAGE
Box Office Potential: AVERAGE

Korea Economy's Yoo Jae-Hyuk
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: GOOD

Herald Economy's Lee Hyung-Seok
Film Quality: AVERAGE
Box Office Potential: GOOD

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무영검 (無影劍, Shadowless Sword)
Director: 김영준 (Kim Young-Joon)
Cast:
윤소이 (Yoon So-Yi), 이서진 (Lee Seo-Jin), 신현준 (Shin Hyun-Joon), 이기용 (Lee Gi-Yong)
Official Website
Theatrical Trailer (Streaming, 700k, Windows Media)

Teaser Trailer (Streaming, Windows Media)
Production Meeting+Martial Arts Demo (Streaming, Real Media)
Making Of (Streaming, Windows Media)
Music Video (Streaming, 700k, Windows Media)
Movie Stills/Posters
Produced By: 태원엔터테인먼트 (Taewon Entertainment)
Distributed By: CJ 엔터테인먼트 (CJ Entertainment)
Rating: 12 and Over
RELEASE: November 18

Via Film2.0, Cine21, Star News 1, Star News 2, Yahoo Korea

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