By no means a direct sequel to The Gingko Bed but loosely connected in terms of its generic origins in supernatural horror, Legend of Gingko is a modestly entertaining romp that tries very hard to be accepted as a spectacularly epic fantasy-adventure movie. Unfortunately, small problems concerning the plot and the relationships of the characters accumulate and lend a farcical dimension to this otherwise robust sword and sorcery tale.
The heterosexual love square at the centre of the plot is never explored with any degree of depth or honesty. Clearly, the arrangement of special effects, chaotically staged fight scenes, and elements of visual gore were of primary interest to the film’s decision makers, subordinating the comprehensible progression of narrative, which was probably a little weak on paper too. The filmmakers never seem to figure out what genre they want to emphasise, with swordplay never a strong contender. Perhaps Legend of Gingko is a melodrama, but what then to make of the complicated framing story involving the supernatural nature of the Heavenly Sword, the Mountain God, and the epic conflict between the two tribes? Is it merely window dressing for selling tickets to testosterone inflated fans?
Sol Kyung-gu embodies one of the film’s biggest problems, roughing up matters with a barbaric and totally discordant performance as Jeok, the jilted pursuant of a much gentler girl’s heart. Bee, the object of his affections, is played by Choi Jin-shil, a popular actress in the 1990s whose career nosedived after she took time out to marry a famous (and as it turns out quite abusive) baseball player. Unfortunately, Legend of Gingko‘s poor box office results probably expedited Choi’s downfall. If so, let’s blame Bee’s miserable contribution to the story. All too often Choi is left to make a lot out of nothing and you can just imagine the ‘direction’, e.g. “in this shot, please express the innocent virtues of a virgin princess … we have to encourage the audience to empathise with Jeok’s love for you.” A wild-man’s insanely twisted version of love, that is. Sol is one of those actors that if given an inch of space will chew through dialogue, the set and even other performers on his way to awakening the interior conflicts of his characters. Rarely does he show any restraint here, tossing aside the viewer’s suspension of disbelief in the process.
There are some highlights among the actors though. Kim Yoon-jin (Shiri and TV’s ‘Lost’) and Lee Mi-seok (Untold Scandal) manage to inject a refined elegance into their quite bitter roles as ruthless huntresses on opposite tribes. Kim best interprets the emotional core of the piece, understanding that a psychologically complex realisation of doomed love is the way to go. Unfortunately, the alpha male she digs is Jeok, who was evidently somewhat more adorable in his back-story. Another feature of Kim’s performance is her ease with the props and the milieu. She can’t quite shed the image of the modern woman, but unlike just about everyone else she seems fairly comfortable running through the forest with a quiver strung around her back. Lee in contrast seems quite ridiculous in the garb of a warrior queen, but she captures the menacing personality of a stop-at-nothing bitch with consummate ease.
During faster and louder scenes, there is some enjoyment to discover here. The scenery is typically lush; visual effects are reasonable and applied quite judiciously; action is hard and dramatic. Intrusive, jerky and big close-up camera work mars the pleasure of the hacking and slashing, which is a bit of a fatal flaw in a work so patently designed for the satisfying deployment of thrills and spills. At a shade under two hours, duration is another concern with just too much happening in some of the poorly scripted passages and nowhere near enough during other navel-gazing moments (how long do we need to dwell on someone’s sad face before ‘realising’ that they’re feeling empty?)