Based on True Historical Events, The Swordsman is told with a non-linear narrative. Set during the chaotic period of the Ming-Qing dynasty transition, the Korean action film follows the story of eccentric swordsman Tae-Yul (Jang Hyuk) who is considered as the best swordsman in Joseon.
The film begins with Tae-Yul trying to protect his king, Gwanghaegun, from the uprising that reaches his palace door to terminate him. Joseon’s greatest military general, Min Seung-ho fights with Tae-Yul in an intensive sword fight, Tae-Yul’s sword breaks into pieces. The pieces scratch his eyes injecting a life-long injury. Tae-Yul’s master, Gwanghaegun stops the fight and leaves the palace. He asks Tae-Yul to leave as well.
A few years later, Tae-Yul lives in seclusion in the mountains with his daughter, Tae-ok. Due to the old injury inflicted in the fight with Min Seung-ho, Tae-Yul’s eyesight begins to fade out. The only herb that could cure his ailment is found in the new kingdom of Joseon but Tae-Yul is skeptical about visiting there again.
When Tae-Yul and his daughter visit the kingdom, they learn about a new slavery peeping into the dynasty which is mostly targeted towards underage girls. The slave trader, Gurutai, a member of the Qing imperial family desires power and for that, he can go to any extent. In the execution of his nasty plans, Gurutai’s men come across Tae-Yul’s daughter, Tae-ok. Tae-yu interrupts their course and smashes Gurutai’s men with pride and anger. In order to take revenge from Tae-Yul, Gurutai abducts his daughter which further leads to the ultimate sword battle between Tae-Yul and Tae-Yul.
The storyline has nothing unique to offer and in the first hour of the film, the narrative lingers without any motivation. In this short span, there is too much historic information thrown towards the audience which is utterly complex and hard to grasp. In short, the setup of The Swordsman is majorly disappointing. However, when Tae-Yul’s daughter is abducted and he picks up his sword, the thrill starts and the level of adrenaline is too high to put into words.
After that moment, the film picks up an entertaining pace that captivates your attention until the end. For the first hour, it is unbearable, and for the second, unavoidable. The two prominent action sequences (the swordsman and gunman fight, and the final battle with Gurutai) are masterly designed and executed. I can vouch for both these action sequences, it makes the whole film stand out. It is just brilliant.
I wanted to see more of Tae-Yul. I wanted to understand him more, see his journey, and ironies more but the film robs you of that. Though, the only scenes that work in the film are about Tae-Yul himself. Especially the last scene of the film where emperor Gwanghaegun and Min Seung-ho are in conversation about hiring Tae-Yul as the king’s swordsman.
Min Seung-ho says, “he may be fast, but without form, he is reckless.” to which Gwanghaegun replies, “Without form, doesn’t he seem free.”
I believe this particular scene is the most outstanding one in the whole film and it could have been an inspiration for the plot itself. Unfortunately, the plot was about something else. Yet, The Swordsman is an interesting watch.
Note – The Swordsman is a Korean Film and thus it would best suited to watch the film with English Subtitles.
The Swordsman is currently not available online.
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