Chinese New Year is almost upon us, and here in Australia, SBS On Demand is running a series of Asian movies to celebrate. Last night I watched Shadowless Sword, where everyone looks like Jack Sparrow – no kidding – no eye goes uneyelined, no hair undreadlocked or beaded (except for the bald guy with tatts) and no Prince sleeps easy in his bed, leaving the kingdom of Balhae without a ruler.
So-ha is a deadly warrior with a heart melting smile
This Korean epic is set in 926, after the Balhae capitol of Sanggyeong fell to invaders from Khitan (Manchuria) and the delightfully named Killer Blade Army dispatched the heir to the throne. A member of the prince’s royal guard, So-ha (Yoon So-yi), is sent off to find the last remaining prince who went into exile 14 years before. She finds him and he’s a derp, but he is also the only hope Balhae has to survive and rebuild.
Prince of Derps
The Killer Blade Army is in hot pursuit with the vengeful Hwa-pyung Gun (Hyeon-jun Shin) and the eye-watering Mae-yung Ok (Ki-yong Lee) leading the slaughter. There are strong vibes between these two, but sadly Mae causes those vibes in others as well.
Gun and Mae – so hot you want to slap them
Shadowless Sword is a Korean venture into the realm of Wuxia – and being Korean, it is chockful of stunning looking people, gravity defying sword fights, extraordinary exploding sword wounds and a hero who seems like a derp to start with but reveals some pretty nifty martial moves as the plot unfolds. The clown prince has become a black market dealer called Sosam (Seo-jin Lee) when So-ha tracks him down, and this section of the movie has a strong comedic element, especially with the heavily eyelined black market bad guys in a scene that looks like Shanghai in the Pirate movies.
This is not a pirate movie, savvy?
Director Yung-jun Kim and writer Paul Sheen don’t seem too sure what kind of a movie they are making at first, but it becomes more serious as it goes along, with Sosam revealing the true character of his alter ego, Prince Jung-hyun Dae, and falling in love with So-ha. There is a very touching moment when he mimics her devotion to him that probably doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house.
The old ‘it looks like I’m saving your life but I’m really kissing you’ ploy
Filmed in China, where superb gobsmacking vistas are run of the mill, the movie looks beautiful as all hell, but the heart of it is the relationship between the two leads and their undeniable charm. Lee and Yoon maintain just the right balance of action, romance and growing devotion to make us care about their fate. There are some excellent supporting performances as well, especially Won-hee Cho as the faithful Chun-soo Cho, and Ki-yong Lee as the deadly Mae, who offers a character that is much more than just the hot sword-babe.
Ki-yong Lee as Mae
And the title? As I understood it, a sword gathers‘shadows’ of those it has killed in vengeance or anger. A ‘shadowless’ sword is one that has only ever been used in defence, to protect the weak and helpless. So-ha carries such a sword.
The bald guy with tatts