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Set years ago in the era of the Joseon Dynasty, the story follows a young police officer named Namsoon (Ha Ji-won) who, along with her fellow officers, discovers a counterfeit ring operating out of the area they've been assigned to protect. However, as the criminals aren't just printing up their own money, they also plan to use it to topple the economy and take down the government. As her investigative work continues, Namsoon soon makes the acquaintance of a young man known only as Sad Eyes (Gang Dong-won), for the way that he looks out at you from underneath his hair - he doesn't say much, but he's got that look and that's all it takes to pique Namsoon's interest in him, even if she shouldn't be thinking those thoughts about someone she might have to toss in jail. Of course, Namsoon can't deny her feelings even if the object of her affection belongs behind bars, and it's not long before she's starting to act on her emotions. Written by
Come On Now People. Cinematography Is Only ONE Aspect of Film-making
While perusing IMDb comments lately I've noticed a rather interesting perspective that glorifies cinematography as if it's the only meaningful aspect of film-making. I always thought that things like directing, acting, scriptwriting, action choreography, and post-production (only to name a few) are all important parts of making an entertaining film. Realistically, almost every film is lacking in some of these elements, but the good movies make up for it by excelling in others. Unfortunately, lots of people apparently think that cinematography alone can carry a film. I disagree, and Duelist provides a case in point.
This movie is essentially an action/comedy, which to me automatically signals an emphasis on action choreography and humor. The most entertaining films of this genre take the fight scenes to exceptional levels while sprinkling in some good laughs along the way e.g., The Legend of Drunken Master (1994). Duelist, on the other hand, provides subpar humor and downright atrocious sword duels. I actually liked the lead actress and actor in other Korean films I've seen, but they were not utilized well at all here. Quite frankly, this film is a disaster. If I had known it was directed by Myung-se Lee (Nowhere to Hide), I probably would have never watched it to begin with. Shame on me for not doing my homework.
For the record, there is a lot of action here, but it is utterly destroyed by inept directing because the camera-work used during the sword duels sucks to high heaven. It's almost as if the director's sole purpose was to sabotage his own movie. Here are a few examples:
1. The opening scene was nonsensical, schizophrenic, and overly sloppy in its execution. A wagon full of money crashes and sprays on a road. The officials try to stop people from stealing it. The scene is nothing more than amateurs scuffling and falling over each other. Not good. There is a very brief duel at the end, but it only entails one or two sword swings.
2. One particular night duel had this viewer's blood boiling as the only discernible "action" was a series of special effects sparks on a pitch black screen. Two of the lead characters are in a dark alleyway, but instead of having them fight where we can see them, the director cuts to total blackness and adds some sparks. This kind of copout really grates on my nerves, because the director knows that he can take the easy way out and not even bother to map out carefully choreographed sword motions or character movements. This sequence, in and of itself, solidifies Myung-se Lee as one of the laziest directors in the industry today. Hey jackass, do us all a favor and don't even bother shooting an action scene if you're too lazy to do it right.
3. Another brief duel takes place in a courtyard and would have been pretty good had the director not placed the camera directly behind an obstruction, thereby showing only portions of the characters as they fought. Seriously, he could have placed the camera just about ANYWHERE else and it would have been acceptable. Instead, he tracks behind a thick fence. What an idiot.
4. Yet another scene has a character in a room with dozens of baddies, but every time he swings his weapon the director moves the camera behind a pillar to obscure the action. The scene itself lasts a matter of seconds and ends prematurely with a freeze frame of the protagonist screaming. At this point, I wanted to break something.
The aforementioned points convincingly argue against other IMDb comments that assert that the action scenes are entertaining. On the contrary, they are not the slightest bit entertaining for viewers who actually want to SEE the characters fight in well-choreographed sword duels. I'm perplexed that so many reviewers enjoy having so many events occur off-screen. You people need to raise your standards a bit.
Someone should seriously tell Myung-se Lee that the Andrew Lau/Wong Kar Wai Wuxia method of "slideshow" photography is the single worst way to film a fight scene, primarily because the viewer cannot see what the hell is going on (ala Storm Riders and Ashes of Time). Someone should also tell him to stop aiming the camera at walls and start aiming the camera at the actors. After suffering through Lee's Nowhere to Hide and this feat of idiocy, I pray to God this imbecile never makes another action film. And if he does, I pray that I'm not stupid enough to watch it.
Which brings me to the cinematography. Lots of reviewers here have claimed that the cinematography of Duelist carries the film. I see this reasoning often, and quite frequently the most overrated movies are those with good cinematography, because the people who love them conveniently forget that everything else sucks badly e.g., Akira Kurosawa's Dreams. Hey, I love great cinematography too, but the movie has to have SOMETHING else, lest it be a very pretty but hollow shell. For example, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's films have excellent atmosphere, but without innovative philosophical concepts they would be practically worthless, like this film.
Everyone mocks me because I consider The Twins Effect (2003) to be one of the most entertaining in this genre, yet I'm vindicated every time a crappy action/comedy like Duelist comes out. Go figure.
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