Friday, July 11, 2008

Movie Review: The Duelist (Korean, 2007?)

Lee Myung-Se; Director, Producer, Production Designer, Writer.

Cool movie alert! We stylin’ now, baby. Think of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, Gary Oldman weird red un-naturalistic sets and Coney Island camera angles, but on Acid, not the crap they sell now but that good blotter we used to get, and more than one.

This movie is so happening, it’s a shame you’ll never see it. Primary colors, flowing drapery, faux sex-witch scene near the beginning just because the director loves us, to set the mood, lots of slow-motion, balletic super slow-mo even.

The protagonist: the eerie, calm confidence of the magically dangerous, a swordsman. And his foil, an Annie Oakley girl with two knives and an Elvis snarl, beautiful, of course, but in a goofy, “I meant to do that” kind of way. They have a few duels, spinning and thrusting in the dark, he silent, she grunting sometimes, exhausting themselves but never getting cut, like they were doing something altogether different.

Lots of jump-cuts, overlays, lapse-dissolves, one great scene of comedic Benny Hill under-cranking. Scenes in daylight are bright and charming, all set in an outdoor market with lots of food, fruit, baskets, flowers, everything you’d expect if you were familiar with such places. Scenes at night time are misty, moody, it’s almost always snowing and swirling, thunder and lightning, the moon should have gotten an acting credit, an Anime moon with Anime jumps and backlight, autumn leaves and living shadows in pale lantern light.

The box says, “Anamorphic Widescreen,” which in Asia can mean anything from almost all the way letterboxed to almost all the way Full Screened. This one is out at the Letterboxed end. It’s an extravagant visual orgy, circular and hypnotic, I can’t wait to see it on a good TV. (I watched on my lap-top this time.) In Korean with Thai subtitles that cannot be disabled.

Lots of those lovely little Korean hats that project status. Poor people have hats made of straw and rich men have the fancy gossamer black ones, they are all the kind that have tiny little crowns with big, round flat brims and tie under the chin because they’re not really hats at all, they do no good in hat-ness, no warmth, no shade, just really cool little hats.

At the end about fifty guys in black outfits with round-crowned Korean chin tie hats and six foot halberds have it out with some government official and his minions. The Annie Oakley chick is on the winning side, she’s very tough, they kill everybody at the official’s house. There are great overhead shots of swirling, clashing crowds, making shapes that run into one another, including the Yin-Yang of the Korean flag. It’s at night all shades of whites and grays with snow and occasionally an unexplained red drapery overlay.

There’s some kind of plot, of course, but I couldn’t get it. Somebody gets pissed, somebody steals something, there is abuse of power, unconsummated love, climactic blade battle, the usual. Annie Oakley chick and the title character are an Asian item, they fight, flirt, duel, laugh, drink, fall in love, he dies, no boom-boom. She cries. He comes back and they duel again in a snow swept, moon lit, shadowy ally, then he disappears, it’s probably a dream.

This movie is a ten, a gem, a keeper, a must-see. I love it.

No comments: