Monday, June 16, 2008

The Restless

If you’ve watched a fair share of Asian films, particularly their unique brand of ancient fantasy epics, you’ll no doubt approach this one with certain expectations in mind, namely that it’s not going to make any sense, the acting will be subpar, and all you can hope for is some impressive imagery and stunts. This mindset worked perfectly for the similar previous Korean swords-n-stunts spectacle Shadowless Sword, an underwhelming and meandering effort, but The Restless rises above formula to deliver a fully realized fantasy world and a competent and moving story. Sure, the acting still isn’t anything special, but at least it’s believable and advances the plot.

The story follows a lone wolf hero as he finds himself in a utopian fantasy world called Midheaven, a refuge for souls waiting to be reincarnated. Shortly after his arrival, he spies a woman who looks like his deceased fiancée, bringing back his painful memories of her death. She’s now a fierce warrior angel tasked with protecting Midheaven from malicious demon spirits, and her memory of her mortal life has been wiped clean, putting a serious wrinkle in his attempts to reconnect with her. Will he risk his own existence to protect and assist a spirit who has no memory of him? Is there any question? It’s a slight story, but the director wrings a great deal of palpable emotion out of the setup without succumbing to excessive melodrama, and allows the rekindled relationship to build and reconcile admirably well.

The film excels with its eye-popping imagery, utilizing a potent array of effects and tons of extras to flesh out the world of Midheaven, making it an instantly believable yet completely fantastic setting that approaches the likes of Blade Runner in establishing a strong sense of place. Ancient buildings stretch up into the heavens and the mystical city branches out to the horizon, seemingly teeming with thousands of souls. Its strong visuals allowed the film to earn top honors for both effects and production design at the 2007 Daejong Film Festival, as well as Best Visual Effects at the 2007 Blue Dragon Awards in Korea.

There’s also a great deal of fancy stuntwork aided by wire-fu and CGI, allowing the actors to engage in some brutal and otherworldly swordplay and martial arts. Since most of the characters are spirits, the normal laws of physics don’t always apply, and when characters meet their end they don’t so much die as they do dissipate into impressive clouds of black ash. The swords practically sing with the intensity of the fights, and the actors completely sell their commitment to bone-crunching showdowns.

The Restless arrives on DVD on June 17th and includes a feature on the making of the film.



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