The Legend of Evil Lake

"Good"

The Legend of Evil Lake Review


You'll be hard-pressed to find a sub-genre nuttier than the Hong Kong supernatural action flick. Typically a blend of swordplay, demons, period intrigue and unexplained powers, this breed of chop-socky can usually be counted on to deliver two things in abundance: flying and dismemberments. On these counts the Korean horror/fantasy The Legend of Evil Lake delivers in spades while providing the coherence often lacking in its Hong Kong predecessors.

The movie begins in 57 B.C. with the defeat of evil sorcerer Auta by a mighty warrior priest who seals the wizard's evil spirit in a frozen lake by thrusting a magical sword into the ground. The spirit will remain imprisoned, declares the warrior, as long as the sword remains lodged. Of course, he's just guaranteed that some schmuck is going to pull it out in the next 15 minutes.

We jump to 896 A.D., and noble general Biharang (Jung Jun-ho) is carrying on with peasant girl Jaunbi (Kim Hyo-jin), stirring the jealousy of Queen Chinsong (Kim Hae-ri). Royal assassins attempt to kill Jaunbi, but she saves herself by becoming the aforementioned schmuck. Soon afterwards, she's possessed by Auta and the flying and dismemberments begin in earnest. It falls to her one true love, Biharang, to save or kill her.

If you find the gravity defying acrobatics of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to be too great a suspension of disbelief, this movie will lose you in the first five minutes. If, however, you're willing to accept the conventions of the genre, the film has a lot to offer. Cinematographers Kim Yun-su and Lu Yue provide a sumptuous canvas of lavish palaces, enchanted forests, and hauntingly beautiful underwater images. The striking score, by Lee Dong-jun, complements the artful camerawork.

The acting is solid, ensuring that if you do allow yourself to slip into the fantastic nature of this universe, the performances won't jolt you out of it. Hyo-jin in particular inhabits her role with such commitment that the cold stare from her possessed incarnation is far scarier than the make-up job that adorns her final transformation.

Martial arts set pieces also define the genre, but here the film supplies merely adequate diversion. An inherent weakness of kung fu flicks of this ilk is that people rarely fight hand-to-hand. More often than not they throw each other across the room with a wave of the hand. This is less viscerally engaging than the combat of more down-to-earth classics such as Fist of Legend or The Legend of Drunken Master. The special effects accompanying this film's conflicts are as often hokey as impressive, though I don't know that I'd want to see a realistic depiction of a guy being sliced in half vertically.

The plot goes through a bout of second act meandering as the hero decides just how to deal with a possessed girlfriend. But for a film of this category, director Lee Kwang-hoon and screenwriters Hong Ju-ri, Lee Seung-mu, and Lee Gwang-hun show admirable restraint, keeping the plot moving while eschewing the arbitrariness of early Jet Li vehicle The Swordsman 2 or the near-incomprehensible Storm Riders.

While lacking the emotional or visual resonance of Zhang Yimou's similarly fantastic (and criminally unreleased) Hero, The Legend of Evil Lake still stands as a worthy big screen tribute to a variety of film oft relegated to cult DVD catalogues. If you want a relatively grounded introduction to a weirdly wonderful world, this is a step in the right direction.

Reviewed at the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival.

Aka Cheonnyeon ho, The Legend of the Evil Lake.

Headed for a nice day at the lake.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 92 mins

In Theaters: Friday 28th November 2003

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

IMDB: 6.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Lee Kwang-hoon

Producer:

Starring: Kim Hyo Jin as Ja woon-bi, Hye-ri Kim as Queen Ji-seong

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