Synopsis. The Swordsman is a 2020 Korean film about a swordsman forced out of retirement to save his daughter. The odds are stacked against him.
What I liked.
Jang Hyuk as Tae Yool. A man of few words, Tae Yool lived a quiet life on the mountain until his daughter decided to leave to secure medicine for his failing eye sight. When she’s captured and under the control of the villain, Tae Yool has no choice but face an onslaught of battles to reach the final fight – the one where only one man will survive. Jang Hyuk conveyed much with the limited dialogue, through facial expressions and body posture. Jang Hyuk’s martial arts experience is evident.
Joe Taslim as Gurutai. The Swordsman’s villain is a Qing noble who enjoys humiliating and having the upper hand. There’s nothing redeeming about him. Indonesian actor Joe Taslim gave this villain a soft spoken cruel egotistical edge. He actually hurt Jang Hyuk in the final fight scene (article) “The fight got faster and faster and we got lost inside the characters and I got so into it I accidentally hurt Jang Hyuk. But Jang Hyuk said he was ok and straight away came back to fight, unlike what other big stars who will need a lot of time to recover.” He even expressed that an actor of Jang Hyuk’s caliber makes him the best action actor in Korea, high praise coming from an established martial artist”.
The production, cinematography, sound is top notch. Directed and written by Choi Jae Hoon, the production team delivers in every scene. It is beautifully shot. The sound of this film is striking. Hearing rain drop on a sword, the daughter’s bracelet jangle, etc. enriched the scenes.
The sword fights. The choreographed fights of The Swordsman were inventive. I love a good sword fight and this film delivers repeatedly. Were there over-the-top moments? Yes, there were. Did the over-the-top moments diminish the fight? No, they didn’t. An article (link) detailed “JANG who is well versed in martial arts teamed up with the stunt team to come up with action concepts to showcase a new type of fighting and action style that has not been seen in a period film before. With highly acclaimed stunt coordinator LEE Sang-ha’s in-charge, audiences can expect action scenes in ‘The Swordsman’ to be among the most spectacular and exciting”.
What I didn’t like.
Slow start and a sufficient story. It took 30 minutes set up the characters and position them to a point where their interactions mattered, gain momentum, and then the backstory made things interesting. Once the fighting started, the film got rolling and was solid until the last frame. The Swordsman’s emotional punch wasn’t its strength, instead the film relied on the physical to carry it.
Would I recommend The Swordsman? Yes. Jang Hyuk elevates every scene. The sword fighting is stellar.