The Korean-produced, shot-in-China epic The Legend of the Shadowless Sword, might seem generic on the surface but it’s actually pretty good. As with most of these things, the tale takes place in the ancient past, and characters and events appear based on myth and legend. After the fall of the Korean capital in the year A.D. 926, the kingdom is plunging into chaos. The only remaining heir, Prince Jung-Hyun (Lee Seo Jin) is living in exile. Still loyal to the dynasty, the beautiful and deadly warrior So-Ha (Yoon Soy) sets out to find Jung-Hyun and guide him to ascend the throne of Balhae and restore order to the kingdom.
The plot is mainly about Yeon and the Prince trying to get back to Belhae before Gun and Mae and their Killer Blade cohorts can find and eliminate them. The filmmakers never really make an effort to interject anything surprising or original into the proceedings, which prevents the film from approaching greatness. Shadowless Sword takes its cue from the recent revitalization of martial arts romance stories like House of Flying Daggers, which are more often than not a bit tragic in the romance department. But once it gets going, the movie is pretty much nonstop action as the two on-the-run heroes must constantly face off against villainous thugs with a slew of magical powers.
There’s a good deal of the kind of flying & jumping that is ever present in Chinese pseudo-historical cinema, however, the violence is more bloody and more pronounced. There’s even a scene where a guy is cut in half and then explodes for some reason. Talk about overkill. A combination of wirework, practical FX and gorgeous CGI sequences, Shadowless Sword is incredible to look at and a joy to take in. But, given that its an exciting movie, I can’t help to feel that when the market becomes saturated with these kind of films we can’t help but get bored.
There are a couple of things holding this back from being a much stronger film. First is the writing. For being an epic film, the writing is awfully mundane. There is not much time spent on the big picture, outside of the bookending sequences. With the film taking place in ancient Korea, this gave the film production ample opportunity to showcase magnificent landscapes, richly decorated sets and some of the best costuming this side of the Pacific. Still, this film as an ensemble piece has many interesting characters, although mostly they are one dimensional and seem to only function with a single purpose before being dispatched. All in all, The Legend of the Shadowless Sword is a really entertaining historical fantasy piece, with action and rediculous acrobatic martial arts sequences. Thumbs mildly up.