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Caught on the plane: Twenty and Memories of the Sword

Posters for Twenty and Memories of the Sword
Posters for Twenty and Memories of the Sword

I always look forward to long-haul flights as an opportunity to catch up on all the movies I should have been watching over the past year. And having just returned from an ultra-long-haul holiday, I can heartily recommend Singapore Airlines in-flight entertainment. My only complaint is that there was too much to watch: if the plane had just carried on round the world once more that would have been just about right.

The Korean movies on offer were Revivre, Gangnam Blues, Twenty, The Classified File, C’est Si Bon, Northern Limit Line, Enemies-in-law, Casa Amor: Exclusive for Ladies, Veteran, Assassination, Chronicles of Evil, The Unfair, Perfect Proposal, Wonderful Nightmare and Memories of the Sword. Where to start with a selection like that? And that’s before you get distracted by an equally strong line-up from the cinemas of other countries.


I started with Twenty, because I didn’t get to see it at LKFF2015. I gave up after 20 minutes. It’s probably an excellent example of its genre, but being geared towards a youth audience it wasn’t what I was looking for at 35,000 feet or at any altitude other than 6 feet under. Instead, I sampled the London East Asia Film Festival’s closing movie SPL2 – A Time of Consequences – a completely incoherent Hong Kong martial arts flick which was enjoyable in its hectic, hyperactive sort of way.

Lee Byung-hun in Terminator Genisys
Lee Byung-hun in Terminator Genisys

Attack on Titan parts 1 and 2 are the sort of post-apocalypse giant zombie movies that only the Japanese can churn out, and they saw me through a couple of meals. Terminator Genisys was the unbeatable guilty pleasure with the excuse that it featured Lee Byung-hun as one of the terminators.

I saved Hou Hsaio Hsien’s The Assassin for another day in the hope that I’ll catch it on the big screen sometime, and instead, with much anticipation, settled down to watch Memories of the Sword: megastars Lee Byung-hun and Jeon Do-yeon with Kim Go-eun (A Muse / Eungyo) in a Goryo dynasty wirework swordfest.

Lee Byung-hun looking good
Lee Byung-hun looking good as a Goryo dynasty would-be usurper

Maybe if Couching Tiger and its ilk had not come first, this would seem more original. Jeon Do-yeon is the tragic Michelle Yeo figure from CTHD, Lee Byung-hun is the bad guy with his eye on the throne (and a past crush on Jeon Do-yeon) and Kim Go-eun is the feisty young swordswoman out for revenge. As it is, it’s a beautiful-looking movie but does not break new any boundaries and leaves you feeling somewhat underwhelmed.

Jeon Do-yeon as the tragic swordswoman
Jeon Do-yeon as the tragic swordswoman

I’ll review Perfect Proposal and Wonderful Nightmare separately. Now can I get back on that plane and go round again, please?

Alice in Earnestland
Soo-nam explains to the psychotherapist (who happens to lead the anti-development campaign) why she has tied her up in Alice in Earnestland

Footnote. As I’m catching up with LKFF reviews, a brief comment on Alice in Earnestland which isn’t worth a separate post of its own. Lee Jeong-hyeon stars as Soo-nam, a girl who struggles against all the odds to support her husband through his operation and disability, taking a huge number of low-paid jobs and just managing to scrape by. She’s one of those quirky females that you find in Korean movies – think the slightly unhinged character played by Im Soo-jung in I’m a Cyborg – with plenty of guts. She has to take on a neighbourhood campaign against a redevelopment project. The campaign wants to get the redevelopment plan to be extended to include their neighbourhood: that way, they can cash in. But the development company only want to redevelop the area that will benefit Soo-nam, and enlist her help. It all gets rather unpleasant, and one of the unsettling things about the film is that while much of plot is played for laughs (most of the characters are pretty eccentric, cartoon-like individuals) there is some very unpleasant violence (particularly a scene involving an iron). Sometimes a blend of comedy and violence works (think Save the Green Planet) but here there is probably 10 seconds of footage which completely turned me off the whole movie. Which is a shame because I kind of liked the rest of it.

  • Park Heung-sik (박흥식) Memories of the Sword (협녀, 칼의 기억, 2014) score-2score-2score-1score-0score-0
  • Lee Byeong-heon (이병헌) Twenty (스물, 2014) score-1score-0score-0score-0score-0 (maybe a bit harsh on the basis of the first twenty minutes, but I have no intention of living through those twenty minutes again)
  • Ahn Gooc-jin (안국진) Alice in Earnestland (성실한 나라의 앨리스, 2014) score-2score-2score-2score-0score-0

3 thoughts on “Caught on the plane: Twenty and Memories of the Sword

  1. Ha, I was flying Singapore Airline too but I didn’t watch any of the Korean films. Had seen Revivre as well as Twenty already (I don’t actually think it’s a good example of its genre. It’s a very forgettable coming-of-age movie, riding on the fans of its male cast. But the only interesting character was the younger sister.). Wasn’t interested in any of the other films. I think Singapore Airlines could improve on their Korean selection – their Japanese & Taiwanese/Chinese films were a much better mix, with some arthouse & indie productions included.

    I watched (spread out over two fourteen-hour flights):
    Millennium Mamba (TW)
    half of the Wim Wender/Sebastião Salgado’s documentary The Salt of the Earth
    Miss Hokusai (J)
    Being Good (J)
    Silvia Chang’s Murmur of the Hearts (TW)
    A Farewell to Jinu (J)
    Most of the “7 Letters” shorts (Singapore) – “GPS/Grandma Positioning System” was my fave
    Alec Su’s The Left Ear (China)
    Ixcanul (Guatemala)
    Todos se van (Cuba)
    Piece of Cake (J)
    Initiation Love (J)

    My favourite were probably Murmur of the Hearts and The Left Ear (the latter being a much better coming-of-age-film – complex, messy, layered, unpredictable). Ixcanul, Todos se van, Millennium Mamba and the part I saw of Salt of the Earth were also very good, the rest of the films okay. Was bored by Miss Hokusai and Initiation Love. A Farewell to Jinu was all over the place, which is a pity, given it had a good cast.

  2. No, no more than an hour or two. I cannot sleep on planes, so I always do a film-marathon.

    You missed nothing with Twenty. Bit disappointed though that the three male leads chose to do a film like this – doesn’t convince me of their acting talent/choices. Kang Haneul will probably be fine (he’s already done a range of roles) but with Kim Woobin I’m starting to feel that his range is a bit limited. Junho (the idol among them!) actually had the more interesting role, though sadly the script writer barely developed his storyline. Lee Yoo-Bi was good, Jung So-Min was totally, totally wasted.

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