The clash of swords rings loudly in writer-director Jae-Hoon Choi’s energetic action outing, The Swordsman. The film sees former royal guard Tae-yul (Jang Hyuk) travel to a nearby town with his daughter, Tae-ok (Hyeon-soo Kim), in search of treatment for an old injury that is costing him his eyesight. Upon their arrival, they find themselves in the middle of a heated conflict between the town’s nobles and a gang of slavers, led by the merciless Gurutai (The Raid’s Joe Taslim). Tae-ok is eventually taken by the thugs after a series of run-ins, and it’s now up to Tae-yul to bloody his sword once more and get her back.
The numerous fight scenes must be given the appreciation they’re due: the choreography is viciously fluid, and every blow is felt (amplified by a gleefully pulpy sound mix). One sequence, in which the hero stylishly dismantles an entire battalion of soldiers in one long take, is especially enjoyable. The action scenes are simply a lot of fun and are sure to be the main draw for audiences – everything else about The Swordsman, though, is far less palatable.
The flick suffers tremendously from a bloated and jumbled narrative that distracts from the core premise. It is so concerned with establishing its political situation and backstory that the entire first half is dedicated almost entirely to set-up. It’s only at the midway point that Tae-ok is taken and the plot can get underway. But by this point viewers will have become so worn down with exposition that it becomes difficult to become invested in the action – even if the action scenes themselves can snap attention back, if only for the briefest of moments.
With only half of the film remaining for Tae-yul to track down and rescue his daughter, the story goes into fast-forward. Characters now have the superhuman ability of teleporting to locations whenever it serves the narrative; minor players who’ve barely had any lines are given massive emotional beats; and the final showdown is anti-climactic at best.
The Swordsman should have been a simple and stylish action adventure. Instead it is so overburdened by its excessive padding that it ultimately collapses under its own weight.
The Swordsman is released digitally at Glasgow Film Festival on 28th February 2021. It does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Glasgow Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Glasgow Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for The Swordsman here: