March 8, 2014

The Showdown: Frenemies With Swords

Do-yeong (Jin Ku) and Heon-myeong (Park Hee-soon) are the kind of best friends who would've been a lot better off if they'd never met each other. They come from warring families and they both want the same woman (Jang Hie-jun) who may be the only interest they have in common. Because Hyeon-myeong is more academic, more intuitive, and more athletic than his BFF, resentments pile up over the years. (This is what happens when there's no other kids in the neighborhood to play with in 17th-century Koreea, I guess.) That Hyeon-myeong eventually tattles on Do-yeong's father and gets him killed doesn't foster much fraternal love either but at least it gives Do-yeong the high ground. Do-yeong is now more loyal and more moral. When these two frenemies end up stranded in an abandoned inn after struggling through a blinding snow storm in enemy territory, the survivors of a Pyrrhic battle that has left most of their fellow soldiers dead, they decide the time has come to talk out their differences, share some secrets and settle the score.

The catch is they're not alone. Do-soo (Ko Chang-seok), a bumbling farmer-turned-fool conscripted into the war and deserter during the battle, is stuck in this ramshackle inn as well. He's not conflicted by past loyalties and betrayals. In a flashback, you learn he's been unfairly drafted, unkindly treated, and repeatedly scammed. As potrayed by Ko, Do-soo is incredibly unlikable but it's hard not to root for the common man when the rich and the royals won't even give him his due when he tends to the fire and cooks up a potato soup for his "betters." Whether he actually adds to the story is debatable. The same can be said for the rival Chinese soldiers who show up in growing numbers at the inn but never really pose a threat or change the dynamic between Do-yeong and Heon-myeong, who, to their credit in writer-director Park Hoon-jung's The Showdown (a.k.a. Swordbrothers a.k.a. Hyultu), never look anything less than fabulous despite the frozen hair, the bloody eyes, the grimy hands, the tattered clothes.

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