Duelist (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie tries to make sense of this slow motion martial arts fest...
Set during Korea’s Chosun Dynasty era, Duelist tells the story of a young female detective called Namsoon who is investigating the spread of counterfeit money. At various points of her investigation, her path crosses that of a swordsman known as Sad Eyes. As they fight in a series of duels, they find themselves drawn to each other and must deal with the conflict of love and duty.
I really wanted to like Duelist. When the DVD fell through my letter box I had high hopes for a well-produced Hero-esque action movie but the reality is very different. After the first fifteen minutes or so, I found myself enjoying the stylish slow motion and obvious high production values. However, it then became clear that slow motion and high production values are all that Duelist has going for it. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of slow motion action as much of the next man, but I’m sure even John Woo would think the director has gone overboard here.
At first glance, Duelist appears to be a mainstream Korean action drama but in actual fact it is an experimental art movie, which may aid your enjoyment if your expectations are appropriately set before you sit down to watch it. The director Myung-se Lee attempts to mix genres together, but goes too far. The abrupt change in style from action to comedy, then romance to slapstick is jarring and takes the viewer out of a film that should draw them in to the relationship between the central characters.
The misjudged combinations don’t stop at the themes either. The mix of different types of music, from strings and pipes that are appropriate to the time period to electric guitars, means that consecutive scenes lack continuity and give the feeling that the viewer is watching a set of student films rather than one consistent, credible movie. During one duel between Namsoon and Sad Eyes tango music accompanies their fight, which is intended to represent the feelings of the characters. However, the sight of two Korean warriors doing a tango with swords edged the movie too close to parody for my liking.
I wonder if Duelist may make a better stage play or dance show. The thought of watching this kind of production on stage with a live band is a lot more appealing than sitting through the whole movie again. The longest duel dance takes up the last five minutes of the film and if you’ve bought into the concept, it is the emotional climax to the relationship between Namsoon and Sad Eyes. Being thoroughly slow-motioned out, I hadn’t bought into it and I was reaching for the fast forward button.
As I reach my conclusion, you have no doubt noticed that I didn’t like Duelist much. On the plus side, it looks great. It’s the type of film where you could hit the pause button at almost any time and put that frame on your wall. It’s when you hit the play button again that the problems become clear. A movie I could compare Duelist to would be Lady in the Water. They both have high production values and great visuals but there is no emotional hook to make you care about the characters and want to keep watching.
I’ve said it before— Duelist looks good and the quality of the 2.35:1 anamorphic picture here does not disappoint. Duelist is a colourful film and the reds and yellows are vibrant, while the dark scenes are well represented. The large patches of black in these scenes are suitably dark and show no signs of compression. Filmed on 35mm film, the picture also shows no signs of dirt or scratches.
Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 (my chosen option) are the two audio options available. The DTS track is loud and I had to turn my system down from its usual level when I loaded the disc. Music plays an important part in the film, especially since there are many scenes with little or no dialogue. I may not have agreed with the use of electric guitars and tango but I have to admit that they sound great through the surround speakers. As with the picture quality, there is no noticeable interference and if you like the movie, you will be very happy with the quality of the sound on this disc.
All of the extra features can be found on the second disc. The ‘Production Notes’ are a set of featurettes, based heavily on interviews with members of the cast and crew. They focus on the post-production process, cast preparation for their roles and the visuals. These featurettes are very dry and would have benefited from a narrator to tie the different interviews together. The ‘Making of’ documentary also features a lot of raw behind-the-scenes footage and is more of a fly-on-the-wall featurette rather than a complete document of how the film was made. The ‘Promotional Gallery’ brings a set of trailers and TV spots together and an interview with the director rounds off the set of extras, where he talks about the critical response to his films and his early career.
In my opinion, Duelist is either an experiment with a big budget or an example of a director’s ego running away with him. I can recommend watching certain scenes in Duelist and admiring the nice still shots, but I found watching the whole movie to be a joyless experience. This two disc set does a good job of presenting the film with decent video and audio but the extras, while they contain a lot of information, aren’t as polished or watchable as they could be.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 2nd July 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Korean, DTS 5.1 Korean
Extras: Making of Featurette, Production Notes, Conversation With The Director, Promotional Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Myung-se Lee
Cast: Ji-won Ha, Sung-kee Ahn, Dong-won Kang, Young-chang Song
Genre: Action and Drama
Length: 109 minutes
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