Name: The Duelist (형사)
Running time: 111 minutes
Director: Lee Myung Se
Genre: Thriller, Historical, Mystery, Comedy (A little bit of everything?)
Notes: Violence, but not of a disturbing nature. If you’re expecting a serious and historically accurate film, you’ve got the wrong DVD!
As part of the Korean Cultural Centre’s new ‘The Year of the 12 Directors’ campaign, “The Duelist” was shown as the last film of the month, and was followed by a Q&A with the lovely director, Lee Myung Se (interview post to come later).
“The Duelist” opens in a mysterious and dramatic way; it’s a dark and stormy night sometime during the Chosun dynasty. An old man struggles through the rain to enter a dilapidated and rather creepy house, only to find a lady playfully enticing the old man deeper and deeper into the shadowy house. Just as we’re about to reach the climax of this scene, we discover that the old man is actually recounting a story to a bunch of his friends in a street circus.
With a sudden change of scene, the viewer is thrust into a bustling and confusing world, where the camera shoots from one scene to the next. We’re introduced to a rather sour-faced young woman, who walks with a great masculine stance, charging through the market with several other older, dour looking men. This woman and her gang of men seem to face off against another gang, and just as it looks like this will turn into a cowboy style Chosun stand off, all hell breaks loose when a rogue horse charges through the street circus, dropping coins everywhere.
Not fooled by this distraction, the young woman, who turns out to be Nam Sun (Ha Ji Won), a Detective of the Left Security Station, rushes after a suspicious street performer. This performer turns out to be an amazing assassin, who goes by the alias of Sad Eyes (Kang Dong Won).
After a heated fight in the back alleys of the town, Sad Eyes soon disappears without a trace. With the coins being spread in the town turning out to be counterfeit, Nam Sun is soon roped into trying to solve the case with her older, long suffering detective mentor, Decetive Ahn (Ahn Sung Kee). Cue several scenes of comedy style detective work from Nam Sun and Ahn, coupled with more amazing fight scenes, and the crime fighting duo are soon hot on the trail of the counterfeit coins that are beginning to cripple the country financially. With the Secretary of National Security becoming the main suspect of leading the counterfeiting racket, and Sad Eyes as his loyal henchman, will Nam Sun be able to bring the criminals to justice, or will Sad Eyes’ sexy looks and puppy dog eyes get in the way?
After watching this, I know there were a lot of mixed reactions from those that I was with. Personally, I really enjoyed this film. It had a very dream like quality to it – the story and way the scenes were linked together were sometimes quite surreal and unearthly. However, some people found that it was far too choppy in the way the story went from serious in one scene, to over exaggerated comedy in the next, then to bizarre shots where it seemed like there was about to be some sort of mafia style show down between factions.The genre of the film is very hard to pin down simply because so many different styles and elements are stuffed into one film. For example, although it may take place in a historical setting, modern rock music will suddenly start blaring out during a fight scene, then suddenly it will be replaced by a romantic sounding orchestral piece. The style of filming too is varied. One minute there will be a wide shot of a fight scene, then next a frozen close up of a shocked face of one of the characters. I was even getting “Carry On….” vibes from how some of the comedic acting was done at certain points.A lot about this film’s artistic direction can be explained by the director, as I found out in the Q&A session afterwards (interview post coming later). He is obviously a man who loves to dream and has a huge imagination. For me, this was a great film. I wasn’t perturbed by the sudden changes in styles or music, and loved the fight scenes and the random elements that were constantly thrown in. However, I can understand why some people weren’t too keen on this film, it’s just so mixed up in so many ways. Maybe this film appeals to a certain kind of person (not sure what kind of person that makes me), but I urge you to give it a go if you want to watch some great choreographed fights, fun acting, lovely costumes, sumptuous colours and settings, and a cheeky bit of romance.
I give this film….