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Restless, The

Genius Products // Unrated // June 17, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted July 22, 2008 | E-mail the Author
Similar to the humdrum Chinese visual epic The Promise, South Korea's The Restless is all bells and whistles without an event to merit the fanfare. Painstaking measures have been spent to craft richly intricate visuals in Cho Dong-Oh's martial arts extravaganza, all which try and dress up an underdeveloped and rather trite narrative arch. And it works ... but only on some very low level. Only those with infatuation towards bright colors and empty performances need apply, as The Restless carries nothing beneath its almost headache-inducing surface.

The Film:

What's one of the most intense conflicts known to man? Why the battle between Heaven and Hell, of course. The Restless, in its unbearably finite wisdom, squanders around the existence of Yi Gwak (Woo-sung Jung, Musa the Warrior) as he inexplicably surfaces in the Alpha portion of that equation following a grimy battle with some oddly-placed beasts. After rubbing elbows a bit with the celestial bodies in the radiant heavens, he learns of his almighty purpose: to balance the world, save the Heavens, right the ultimate wrongs, take your pick. Ultimately, just bear in mind that he's the ultimate good guy who manages to hold onto his humanity as he walks among this hazy tranquility - and run into his old lover who, conveniently, doesn't remember who he is.

The premise sounds fine enough, giving us a fantasy-based narrative in The Restless filled with enough good vs. evil conflict to grab interest into its evenly-spread wire-fu excitement. It does begin to spiral out of control with its thematic elements a bit once the villain's plights against bureaucracy try to cloud judgment on his character. Plot eccentricities start to get thrown into the mix erratically, such as side love stories and oddly explainable motives, which try to complicate the story further in an effort to make it seem more detrimental to our concentration. The Restless still makes certain to outline its specific characters in either radiant light or fluent darkness, though, enough to earn an almost comic-book persona to the story - and to the invincible, incredibly radiant hero.

In those respects, there's a lot of similarities between this and Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, the full throttle Japanese action film based on a Romeo and Juliet - esque anime yarn. Naturally, suspension of fact-based comprehension is needed to digest this outrageous flick, but it's a sacrifice made in vain to soak in an underdeveloped story with just enough gloss to try and support the visual concoctions. It bridges gaps between plot points with attractive visuals and a somewhat sweeping score, as if we won't notice the lack of sense behind what has taken place (such as, for example, the shift in power from an outcast to a second in command within a secretive warrior clan within a few clicks of the reel).

As such, there is an adequate amount of cotton-candy and oil-painting type cinematography to keep our eyes entertained while soaking in this tale chock full of utter disbelief. Darker, evil scenes impressed me the most, especially those utilizing either olive or deep red palettes. Once the narrative ushers into the fantastical and omega-based weight, however, we're sent tumbling through a psychedelic whirlwind of slapped-together colors set against a backdrop of potentially attractive visuals. It's a film that seems like it knows beauty, tasted it, then decided it wasn't enough flavor and threw together even more zest to make it as erratically resonant as possible. It's more a mosaic of blooming visuals taped together about as coherently as the narrative, which is a shame; The Restless boasts fantastic usage of seamless palettes that tie in a color theme for the film, but loses our thematic concentration once it starts to feel too ethereal and nonsensical.

All these are sacrifices that we make to eat up quality martial arts action set against attractive backdrops and involving unique weapons. In that, The Restless rests somewhat on its laurels in executing solid levels of excitement that would appeal to more seasoned action and/or martial arts enthusiasts. Some of the effects, such as a scene with furiously flying ashes that burst into the wind once certain enemies are destroyed, give us some truly inspiring eye candy inside fast-paced battle action. That entire scene actually, filled with multicolored lanterns and coral-shaded petals, is one of my favorites from the film. The Restless rides its hand-to-hand combat energy through in moments like this instead of thriving on holistic enjoyment. Which is a shame because with a little more timidity with its uncontrolled visual style and a little more meat behind this fantasy story, Cho Dong-Oh's film could've been a "wow" event instead of a dreamy, touch-and-go confection that, even with my apprehensiveness, still musters up to be a remotely involving and relatively exciting Korean CG actioner.

The DVD:

Genius Products brings us The Restless in their growingly commonplace presentation of overseas import films, coming equipped in a standard keepcase presentation with a slipcover encasing the box.

The Video:

Genius brings us a fantastic 2.35:1 anamorphic presentation of this stunningly complex visual work filled with enough CG-enhanced cinematography to make your eyes bleed. I was pretty impressed with the competency of the color usage and shadows, especially during more green-based and deep red scenes. There's a bit of digital catch-up that needs to be played during some of the more rapid scenes, such as when too many flower petals fly around on-screen or when too many enemies explode into ash. Overall, there's a lot of solid detail usage and, conversely, lack thereof of muddled details within the digital presentation. Outside of a little blurriness that pops up when we try and focus on distanced faces or scenic details, The Restless looks quite striking.

The Audio:

The Korean 5.1 Dolby track struggles to keep up with the beauty, but does a serviceable job in its task. Multidirectionality is used here and there, but it all feels just a shade on the hollow side. The musical accompaniment and most of the vocal strength, though, sounds just fine, stretching in splotches to the lower frequency channel. Sound effects like the crashing of water, as well as gentle effects like a light combustion of ashes, are handled well as well. It's an adequate track, but for an action flick it lacked the punch and aggressiveness that I was expecting.

The Extras:

Making of The Restless:
Standing right underneath an hour long, this piece covers just about everything you'd be interested in involving the production of the film, from the effects to the casting. Plenty of behind-the-scenes footage wiggles into the frame, as well as interviews with Cho Dong-Oh and cast. Honestly, the pace of this feature is a little slow, though informative, so be prepared to concentrate hard on the material to prevent a drifting attention span.

After the hour-long portion above, subsequent making-of clips seem a hint on the redundant side. However, we can still pull some quality info from the pieces within the repeated material. Here, we have two separate features:

Reincarnation for 49 Days:
Roughly 12 minutes of footage that closes on on Cho Dong-Oh's inspirations for compiling the film. It hints at his inspirations behind lore from his childhood, as well as the Buddhist elements of reincarnation utilized in the film. It's a lot of conversation from the director, coming as close to a director's commentary as there is on this disc.

Production Design Featurette:
Another 12 minutes of interviews and behind-the-scenes flesh is given to us here, much of it focusing on the film's director of photography Yong ho Kim. It also includes some really nice behind-the-scenes work incorporated in with the computer-generated materials in the film, which makes the rather monotone interview style worth the struggle. The numerous toys used in crafting the psychedelic visuals get ample face time here, which helps make it worth our effort.


Final Thoughts:

To be honest, The Restless' visual craftsmanship had that sleep-inducing feel that you get when you see way too much eye candy without enough substance to back it up. It goes a little Crouching Tiger on acid at times, but mainly the film just barely holds enough attention during its span to keep the action going until its explosion of an ending - one that would be a lot of fun to watch if it didn't follow up such a meanderingly blasé flick. It's a quality visual experience, though, and topping it off with some nice action sequences still makes The Restless worth the Rental.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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