KOREAN MOVIE REVIEW:
I recently watched 'Duelist' a Korean movie (2005) which stars Ha Ji-won and Kang Dong-won and was moved enough to want to write my opinions down. I watch a lot of dramas and movies mostly alone so, with no one for me to share my thoughts with, I thought I might give writing them down a go.
I feel like this movie is a Korean version of those very visually amazing Chinese martial arts films, such as Hero or the House of Flying Daggers (neither of which I particularly liked) with their saturated colours, gorgeous costumes and lovely imagery and quite beautiful fight scenes. Those films come across as being very elegant and almost clean (and tragic of course) with perhaps more of an emphasis on style over substance. But although 'Duelist' also concentrates on bringing us beautiful imagery and colours, it is definitely a much more earthy, almost dirty affair and, for me anyway, really contains a deep core of emotion in it's rich but simple love story.
And it is also weird..... very very weird.
This earthiness starts right from the opening scene in the market place (I am totally ignoring the very first scene with the crazy woman in the house and the pervy dude....don't know what that was about!). Think grimy peasants in course clothing, dirt and dust flying around and just the general bustle of people going about their business. Its such a long scene and is quite confusing, so it takes a while to figure out what exactly is happening amid the slow motion fighting and mayhem, and exactly what roles our major characters are playing.
So what is happening is a money counterfeiting ring being run by a nobleman, which is getting investigated by some detectives and policemen. And though I actually thought the plot was quite interesting, its almost beside the point in this movie, as for me, the main drawing point are the many charged encounters between the Assassin 'Sad Eyes' and the Detective Namsoon.
This movie for me, was almost like a string of beautiful moments that just stuck in my head long after I had finished watching, scenes that I just couldn't stop thinking about .
The scene where Sad Eyes walks through the sunny marketplace running his fingers over trinkets in the stalls, watched intently by Namsoon. I think it is a powerful moment, so at odds with him being an assassin, and maybe the point where Namsoon first realises he is someone who is important.
Obviously the fightscene in the dark alleyway is another powerful moment, where a connection is built between the two as they almost dance, the scene complete with Tango music. Sexy and intense,
Although there are so many scenes I loved, the last one I will mention was the point in the raid where Sad Eye's is surrounded and fighting for his life in the snow. He watches Namsoon as she mirrors his every movement, and so in his mind she is beside him keeping him company until the very end. Really though she is fighting elsewhere in the house but in his mind at least, he is not alone. Beautiful and very very sad.
This movie is filled with scenes such as the above and it is those intense moments of connection between the two leads that left the deepest impression for me.
Really, below everything, this is an understated, tense with longing, love story.
THE ENDING: What does it mean??
I have read quite a few reviews and opinions trying to figure out the ending, and sadly, try as I might (and I tried really really hard as I HATE sad endings), I do find it difficult to believe that Sad Eyes survives the raid as some have suggested. I think he does die and when Namsoon walks down to the alley after his death, revisiting the place they had fought in earlier, she is dreaming of him. I think it is her way of telling him she loved him as they fight together one last time.
Another suggestion I read is that when she passes into the darkness in the alleyway, it is actually also her death, and the next scene where they fight/dance is their reunion on the other side.
The very last scene in the sunny marketplace to me was like a ray of hope. I don't think it was real, more like an echo of what might have been, or even what could happen if they meet again. Especially if you agree with the suggestion that Namsoon follows Sad eyes to the other side.
Almost like a chance to live again and maybe get it right this time.