How many manga (or in this case, Korean manwha) can you recall that use the following formula:
1. Take a legendary figure or epic adventure
2. Twist it to become dark and gritty or something, then cast it as a seinen series
I'd bet that you can think of a whole bunch. This film version of Blade of the Phantom Master is just like those, only it doesn't have the advantage of being, y'know, a series. Read on for more of why that makes it so sad.
Blade of the Phantom Master: Shin Angyo Onshi
As per the formula above, and like the manwha it's adapted from, Blade of the Phantom Master draws from Korean myths and folk-tales to form the foundation of its otherwise fantastic world. Greatest among these is The Legend of Chun-Hyang, the events of which more or less inspire the first half of the film.
Amen-Osa were once secret agents of the now-toppled Jushin empire, traveling the world to investigate evildoers and corrupt rulers, summoning phantom soldiers from their medallions to deliver violent retribution. With the collapse of the kingdom, the Amen-Osa were left to wander, one of them being Munsu, the protagonist.
Almost as soon as the film begins one can detect the anti-heroic twists applied to the old stories. Munsu encounters Monlyon, the original hero of the Chun-Hyang legend. Like the legend, Monlyon intended to become a royal inspector (in this case an Amen-Osa) to punish the warlord that kidnapped his lover. However, barely ten minutes in, Monlyon is killed horribly by sand cannibals, and Munsu is forced to use his corpse as a shield from their arrows, eventually exchanging it for safe passage. Hardly a fitting image for the champion of justice that most commoners (including poor Monlyon) thought Amen-Osa to be.
Eventually, the events of the Chun-Hyang legend come to pass, with Munsu passing bloody judgment upon the warlord and freeing Monlyon's lover. But rather than a delicate bride, Chun-Hyang turns out to be a crazy swordsman dressed in a leather S&M getup and rocking a giant clawed fist.
And so it goes on. The show plays with its stereotypes and figures in a fashion not unlike that of Saiyuki, retelling heroic journeys in an antiheroic way. Unfortunately, that's where this film falls on its face. Being a film, it's simply incapable of expanding upon the wealth of material already available in the manwha series. The second half of the movie is a new adventure, with seemingly no connection to the first half, other than featuring both Munsu and Chun-Hyang, who followed him, acting as his Sando bodyguard (and renaming herself same).
The same goes for the art. While well-animated and boasting a satisfying level of choreographed bloodshed, the film doesn't carry over the deep shading and complex details of the manwha that called to mind such classics as Berserk and the more recent Tenjoh Tenge and Claymore manga.
As such, the entire movie feels like a 90-minute pilot episode for TV series that would never be (it's been five years since the original debut). Which is quite a shame, since it would have made a great long-running show.
In the end, the best thing you can do for Blade of the Phantom Master is to rent it, and then read the manwha, which was featured in Japanator's own Scanlation Spotlight column back in February.
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