Blades of Blood is a terrible title for its film. It evokes some sort of blood-filled horror scene, but it’s far removed from that. I like its original title better, Like the Moon Escaping from the Clouds. It’s a Korean wuxia, a sword-fighting martial arts film set in the 16th century, during the Japanese invasion. As the Japanese army advances, Korea is shaken by internal strife when a powerful warlord, Lee Mong-hwak, tries to usurp power from the Korean king by running him out of Seoul. Through his machinations, he strategically kills a group of influential monks and their proteges, with one exception. Fuelled by revenge, the surviving protege joins a blind swordsman in his search for Mong-hwak.
Technically, Lee Joon-Ik’s film is flawless. The actors are solid, delivering the movie’s tragedy with as much poise and skill as its comedy, notably Jeong-min Hwang, who, after last year’s beautifully entertaining Private Detective (Park Dae-Min, 2009), continues to shine with his unique acting style while showing strong charisma and screen presence as the blind swordsman. The movie’s plot is ordinary for the genre, a revenge story with a hero, a villain, a father figure and a damsel in distress but the archetypes never seem to fully accept these limitations which create interesting dynamics when each of them meet. One of the most engaging aspects for me was the history. For example, we hear of the Japanese invasion for most of the movie but never see them until the climax, and it does seem like Mong-hwak wants to conquer Seoul so he can protect the kingdom against them. However, when he finally succeeds, when the king is driven out of the capital, and he conquers the throne, the brutal arrival of Japanese forces, the implacable might of their rifles against the Koreans’ swords and arrows, puts the situation’s hopelessness in perspective.
In the end, the winner takes it all and determination isn’t enough against a technologically superior might. In the end, all these characters are allowed is an honourable death.