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The Story : Jinha and Sullie are very much in love, having grown up together, but they are worlds apart. Jinha comes from the nomadic Koryo family and, under the tutelage of this "uncle", he studies the secretive sword art- the Bichun Secret. Sullie is daughter to a powerful Mongol warlords concubine. They are a pair not allowed by either family, Jinha's uncle insisting she is too upper class, and her family agreeing, wanting her to marry a someone with power, influence, and land. When her family moves away, relocating under the new government, they agree to meet again one day and save themselves for each other.
However, in their time apart, Sullie's family wishes her to marry the new lords son, Junkwang, and Jinha learns that he is the descendant of the previous rulers of the land, the Mongols wiped his entire family out, and it is his duty to avenge his family using his sword mastery. When Jinha and Sullie finally reunite and try to run away together, they are caught, and in an uneven battle, Jinha is thought to be killed. Over time, Sullie mourns the loss of her true love, eventually marries Junkwang, and gives birth to a son. Yet, Jinha lives, recuperates from his wounds, and the shock of losing his love and the shame over what happened to his family leads him to a life fueled by bitter vengeance. He forms a group of assassins and an army against Junkwang's family taking them over, leaving the Mongols in ruin... Reuniting again, the two have grown farther apart, Sullie has become a mother, accepting of her family, Jinha a hardened killer, and their love will have to struggle to overcome their past and the betrayals that lie ahead.
The Film : Wow, just when you think the swordplay film is dead,... along comes Stormriders... along comes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon... along comes Bichunmoo.
Bichunmoo is a successful, big budget, Korean attempt at making an epic swordplay film. With little CGI elements like Stormriders, the romance of Bride With White Hair, a muddled plot like Ashes of Time, and the crazy, spinning, flashing blades combat of Swordsman 2, it doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. In the end, it is a flawed dazzler of a film. Hey, I'm a sucker for new wave swordplay, whirling fighters, and exploding bodies, and Bichunmoo takes its fighting cues from the Ching Sui Tung Duel to the Death, East is Red, Swordsman 2 school of action choreography. So, in the first fight when Jinha goes into his sword stance and power swipes the first enemy body in half, I knew I'd have fun.
While it is quite run of the mill storytelling (the boy and the girl tragically kept apart by familial politics) and fighting, I thought it had enough energy and style to belong in the ranks with the best of the swordplay films. The plot is a big twisting muddle of condensed time, multiple characters, backstabbing, secrets, and (above) I barely explained a fourth of it. The CGI work is blatant and obvious, but it really adds a nice depth, a fanciful touch. The actors all do well with their roles, especially the hawk faced lead Shin Hyun-joon, who stars as Jinha, and convincingly manages to take the character from innocent boy to soured, vindictive man. One step the film makers took in adding a newer flavor is in the soundtrack, which is a heavy synthesizer, neo-metal, drum machine score, that was for my ears pretty cheesy, but forgivable.
In researching the film, I found the answer to what I thought was the films major flaw- it feels very condensed, like a three hour epic was squished into just under two hours, skipping forward in time, introducing a vague character or two who do crucial things but we barely know who they are, and little details (like Jinha's suddenly changes his name) that pop up out of nowhere. Well, no big surprise, it was based on a comic, so naturally they had to condense a long story into a films running time. But, also the film apparently had several scenes cut out because Korean distributors don't like films that are over two hours, and do to the films big budget, the film maker was forced to remove scenes that probably would have helped fill many of story the gaps. So, my heart goes out to the films director, Kim Young-jun. It is still a good film, and general HK and anime fans used to such haphazard storytelling will not be disappointed. And, I guess the story gaps weren't a huge deterrent in its homeland, Bichunmoo was a huge hit in Korea, especially with younger audiences, coming in third at the total box office the year it was released, right behind Mission Impossible 2 and Gladiator. It also has its fare share of jaded critics, lamenting over its lack of originality and hacked to death plot, but I'm glad someone is trying to keep this genre alive and, despite its fumbles, found it to be very entertaining.
The DVD (s) : Spectrum DVD Korea, two discs, the entire second disc being devoted to bonus material. Packaged in a two DVD keepcase with an attractive slipcover. NOTE- This DVD is REGION 3.
Picture- Anamorphic Widescreen. 1.85.1. Bichunmoo was a large production, with great sets, costumes and colorful (but flat) cinematography; luckily the DVD does a good job of showcasing it. The film is pretty much free of any blemishes or spots, gorgeous color with great hues, good sharpness (but as I said, it was filmed a little flat) and excellent contrast. One key complaint was that the resolution seemed a bit off anytime there was the red cloth, like a robe or drapes, interrupting and squaring the straight line. However, for me, after watching bootlegs, such things don't distract me too much, so it was minor and complaining about it would be like dating a supermodel and dumping her because she had a dime sized birthmark on her hip.
Sound- Korean Dolby Digital DTS, Dolby Digital Surround, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Your ears be in for a workout. I found it to be a very dynamic soundtrack, dialogue is clear and precise, the music is sharp, and when it comes time for the action, the swooshes, clinks of metal, fluttering cloth, bone crunching, and body punches fill up the sound system. As far as the surround goes, music was focused on the front, with dialogue and action filling up the side and rear speakers... Also, of course, there are optional white English subtitles that appeared to be well translated and flub free.
Extras- Disc One: 20 Chapters--- Audio Commentary, but sadly its in Korean (I assume it is the director) so unless you are fluent in Korean, you're out of luck.
Disc Two: Cast & Crew Bios (in Korean)--- Trailers--- Highlights (basically a 2 minute montage of various scenes)--- A 65 min Making Of Featurette. Shot on video, it is an extensive behind the scenes look at the filming with a few on set interviews (in Korean) with the various key stars and the director. Despite the lack of subs, it was still a very neat feature.--- Music Video--- CG Clips, a 11 min look at the CGI/fx work.--- NG Collectables, 4 mins of flubs and bloopers, the funniest of which were the poor wirework guys crashing into stuff.--- The film soundtrack, 12 songs.
Conclusion : So, I liked the film, the transfer of the film was adequate, it has an entire second disc of extras, and can be found at a fair, very modest price... Yet, I'm only giving it a "Recommended"? Well, normally, I consider deleted scenes to be a nice bonus but not a must have. However, in Bichunmoo's case, putting those deleted scenes either back in the film or at least on the extras disc would single-handedly eliminate what I find to be the films biggest flaw. Therefore, I'll save giving it a "Highly Recommend" until someone puts out a directors cut. Until that happens (and it may not) this edition is more than worth adding to your collection if you are a Asian film buff.