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By Jeremy Knox | July 16, 2004

Ministers in a rebel province of 17th century Korea are being summarily killed in grisly fashion, one has his head cut off and the other is disemboweled by a mysterious assailant. What starts off as an interesting murder mystery degenerates into a movie that’s so confused as to what it wants to say that it doesn’t even bother with a proper ending.

Epic in scale and reminding me quite a bit of “Last of The Mohicans”,
“Sword in the Moon” tells the story of two soldiers. One, Yun Gyu-yeob, is forced into servitude to a corrupt Lord and earns his nickname “The Human Butcher” due to his brutality. Another, Choi Ji-Hwan, went rogue after being thought killed during an earlier battle. These soldiers meet again and their clashing agendas lead to a showoff between the two men where Yun must decide between loyalty to an oath he took and the love of his friend.

As in all epics, there is love, loss, honor, death, a beautiful woman; and a sweeping score to tie all these elements together. Does it work?
Welllll… it starts off great, the mystery of who is killing the ministers and why is the most interesting part about the whole movie. Unfortunately, when the culprit is revealed and the film switches gears to a muddled revenge story it soon loses its way.

Min-su Choi and Jae-hyon Jo play well off each other as two soldiers whose love is so deep that we start to wonder if they are really just “friends”. Neither actor lets the theatrics turn into Top Gun double entendres (well, except for one scene, but that’s the fault of the screenwriter) and the relationship can be interpreted as sexual or not. The only female with a speaking part in the film is Bo-kyeong Kim. However, she has almost nothing to do except fight alongside Choi and participate in a powerful scene where her father, a provincial Lord, calls her to him and tearfully debates with himself whether to allow the enemy to kill her or for her to die a much kinder death at his hand. The actor who plays the Lord hits all the right notes for the scene.

Despite the storyline that fizzles out towards the end, “Sword in The Moon” does have quite a bit of going for it. The film is beautifully shot, the score fits the action well and the sword battle scenes are the most brutal of any film I’ve ever seen. It’s just that, after a strong opening, the movie begins to meander and tries to fit in too many elements without bothering to try and figure out the best way to insert them into the flow of the film. Basically, whenever something about the character’s past must be explained it’s a STOP MOVIE! – CUE FLASHBACK! type of thing. Never mind if something interesting or important was going on.

I think that the real reason it’s only getting three stars from me is that the movie aspires to be so much deeper than what I ended up sitting through. It’s a sad thing to watch a film and see a much better one buried somewhere inside. In the end we’re left with a gorgeous epic that doesn’t seem to go anywhere and never follows through with its own promises.

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