Costume dramas have been a hot ticket at the Korean box office ever since Lee Byung-hun lit the charts on fire with Masquerade in 2012. Fast forward three years and the star returns to period fare with the swordplay action epic Memories of the Sword. Alas, rather than a bang, this tent pole closes out the high summer holidays on a whimper in what has been a difficult summer for the embattled superstar, following the tepid response to Terminator: Genisys, his latest high profile Hollywood foray.
Lee plays an ambitious warrior who betrays an ex-lover, played by top thespian Jeon Do-yeon. She goes into hiding and trains a child to become a great fighter. Eighteen years later, a teenaged Kim Go-eun is ready to take revenge in her place. Betrayal, greed and love are the driving emotions of this story, but the only feelings viewers are likely to experience are bewilderment and frustration, as this period yarn dovetails odd tonal shifts and awkward wirework choreography into the year’s most befuddling cinematic experience.
Unfortunately, the film proves to be a low point for all of its stars, as well as its acclaimed director Park Heung-sik. No one involved seems to know what kind of project they signed on to, and this confusion is transmitted to the audience through a narrative that seesaws between juvenile slapstick and solemn melodrama. A misbegotten foray for all involved, Memories of the Sword will soon be forgotten.