Blade of the Phantom Master

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Blade of the Phantom Master poster

DirectorJoji Shimura, Ahn Tae-kun
StudioOLM, Inc., Character Plan
Release year2004
Purchase DVDClick here to buy from Amazon.

You know, history can be a fickle thing. It can sustain grudges for absurdly long periods.

There was a time when Japan basically usurped the Koreans from their own country. From political corruption to limited freedom of speech to assassinations to looting to forced prostitution. It wasn’t until Japan’s major defeat in World War II that the Koreans were able to regain their independence. And not too long after, the Koreans will see more chaos: the Korean War and the Cold War, leading to the split between the North and the South. Needless to say, some people to this day maintained bitter feelings about this era.

Some Americans were still enraged about the incident at Pearl Harbor. But to the Koreans around the same period, they were treated lower than dirt in their own country. And should they speak out to the imperialists, they would meet a grisly fate.

Today, both Japan and South Korea are quite prosperous nations but don’t necessarily get along. Understandably so, there was some serious bad blood in the past that embittered people of Korea to this day. It is hard to say how much time will have to pass before the two nations form a friendlier alliance.

So for today’s review, we have an interesting little feature film known as Blade of the Phantom Master.

Blade of the Phantom Master represents the first animated film collaboration between Korean and Japanese creators. This is an adaptation of a manhwa (Korea’s version of a manga) that ran from 2001 to 2007. In Korea, it is called Shin amhaengosa. In Japan, Shin Angyō Onshi.

So okay. We have an anime adaptation of a manhwa based on feudal Korea which explores Korean folk tales. That is such a cool idea.

But how does this movie turn out?

*sighs*

I feel like a jackass…

Blade of the Phantom Master Opening Scene

We open up with a narration by our main character, Munsu.

Munsu: When Jushin fell, I understood… I knew the brutality of the unimaginable guile of evil men. My king died, my companions died, and I lost my language. So that made me think… if I’m going to fight evil men, I’ll need to be cunning enough to outwit the bastards. Otherwise, how could I ever serve as an Amen-Osa.

Munsu appears before a large number of soldiers right before holding out his medallion and unleashing hell upon them. And then… the logo pops up. Wow, that is mercifully short. Perhaps too short.

A different narration takes place, explaining what type of people are the Amen-Osa. They are basically spiritual warriors playing the role of vigilantes, overthrowing bad governments. But due to some unexplained event, “the world is in chaos” and the kingdom of Jushin fell.

And that’s all we know about that. I can’t believe I’m saying this but there’s got to be more exposition than that…

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu

We meet our hero once again, who is now in a scorching hot desert for some reason. Why would he wander into a desert without any water while wearing a long-sleeve shirt and long jeans? No idea. I guess this man has no common sense.

Munsu succumbs to the heat but is later revived by some kid wandering in the desert.

Monlyon: Whoa there, mister! You don’t have to gulp it down like that!

“It” = water. All about the context. Wasn’t in the original script either. Oops.

Munsu: I cheated death again.

Oh really. I hope you didn’t think it’s by your own volition, because it’s not. Dumbass.

The young man named Monlyon warns Munsu of some sand devil creatures called the Sarinja, and this is the reaction we get.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu
At first, I was like…
Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu Laughing
But then I LOL’d!

Monlyon is a Sonbi, whatever the hell that is, but confesses that he also wants to be an Amen-Osa. It turns out that his only motivation for that is to rescue some girl, who was kidnapped by a new government official. Munsu, however, isn’t at all thrilled by this.

Munsu: So you want to become an Amen-Osa, stick it to the lord, and get your girlfriend back, right? They say all politics is personal.
Monlyon: You’re wrong! This man—
Munsu: Oh sure, if you steal another man’s woman, he probably can’t govern worth a damn either. But after you punish him, what are you gonna do then, huh? Surely, you studied enough to know an Amen-Osa can’t have a family. Your big reward will be turning your back on your girl and living the life of a wanderer. If you ask me, you just pissed away three years of your life, doc. The Amen-Osa isn’t some magic answer. You have to figure your life out for yourself.

Oookay. But why is an Amen-Osa restricted to that lifestyle in the first place?

Monlyon: Is that so?! Just what makes you the big expert, huh?

Refer to the prologue, doc.

Monlyon: Have you watched your parents die right in front of you?

Whoa, follow up with a random exposition uppercut!

But Monlyon decides to take another route to rescue his damsel, and then…

Blade of the Phantom Master Monlyon Impaled
Wow. We’re not even at the 10-minute mark and our “deuteragonist” is already killed off.

Munsu gets ambushed by the briefly mentioned Sarinja, who look like a bunch of goblin troll lizard sand people. Well, the English sub called them hobgoblins.

Blade of the Phantom Master Goblins

Instead of ganging up on Munsu and throwing their spears at him, they decided to get up close and personal.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu Gunshot
Bang.

And yeah, Munsu repels some of them with just a pair of guns. And as I mentioned earlier, they could’ve been throwing their spears at him.

Blade of the Phantom Master Spears
Oh. Well, I’ll be damned.
Blade of the Phantom Master Monlyon Impaled
Whoa, dude! Using his corpse as a meat shield? Not cool.

Munsu: All right, listen up, you freaks! I’m throwing you this guy’s body. Do whatever you want with him! And in exchange for that, you pretend you never saw me, got it? You sick bastards have a taste for man-meat, you’re gonna love this tender, young stuff! You decide to make it a buffet, I swear I’ll give you a heartburn.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu Walking Away

Yeah. You’re seeing this. He takes the window of opportunity to use a dead child’s corpse to make his own escape. All so while the scene of him walking away, with nary a look of care in his eyes, while constantly cutting to Monlyon’s mangled body eaten away.

Blade of the Phantom Master Monlyon Eaten
Talk about gruesome.
Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu Drinking Water
Our hero, using freshly killed bodies as bait.

But it turns out Monlyon’s body was stuffed with dynamite, which kills the creatures before they can remove it.

The explosion sends Munsu a…

Blade of the Phantom Master Headband
Headband, I guess?

…Yeah, there’s a point to this. A stupid one, but there is a point to why he got it.

Munsu takes it while gloating his “I told you so” speech, while being joined by Monlyon’s “adorable, cuddly companion” desert bat.

Blade of the Phantom Master Desert Bat
Master of the Phantom Blade. Complete with human children being eaten by goblins and “badass” anti-heroes traveling with cuddly, furry sidekicks. Rated PG.

Blade of the Phantom Master Lord Byon Cheering

We cut to a different scene, where a corrupt ruler is getting entertained by one of his soldiers crushing the skulls of various villagers.

But then one of the villagers pulled off a David and Goliath, and killed the giant soldier with a literal stab to the back.

Blade of the Phantom Master Giant Killed
Yeah, that little dinner knife killed him.

Lord Byon is not pleased by this, ordering his soldiers to put the villagers to death and banishing their families to the desert.

Deeper into his castle, Lord Byon visits a little plot device: Chun-Hyang, the girl mentioned by Monlyon earlier in the movie.

Blade of the Phantom Master Chun-Hyang
Uhhhhhh…

Is that kinda crucification pose meant to be symbolic? I thought we were supposed to explore Korean mythos.

Blade of the Phantom Master Lord Byon and Chun-Hyang

Lord Byon just stands next to her and mocks her for putting her faith in Monlyon—which isn’t exactly off base, considering Monlyon is already dead by this point. He tries to force her into marriage, all while she’s chained up in his dungeon wearing nothing but leather restraints.

BDSM. Just what we need.

Of course, Chun-Hyang refuses his offer and Lord Byon summons a hypnotist. Oh dear, I don’t wanna know.

Meanwhile, Lord Byon has just received a contract offer from an unknown mercenary, claiming he could slaughter a hundred men on his own. Pleased by this, Lord Byon has ordered his guards to seize villagers as targets and bring them to his courtyard to be slaughtered.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu
Oh, no, it’s Asuna from Sword Art Online. SHIT! ABORT! ABORT!

The mercenary, however, states that he will rather take on Lord Byon’s own army and takes his hood off to reveal…

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu Disguised as Monlyon
Wait, who is this guy?

Actually, that is Munsu impersonating Monlyon, taking the young man’s place to overthrow Lord Byon. Fake Monlyon criticizes the villagers for their cowardice and their unwillingness to face him in battle, despite holding weapons in their hands.

Lord Byon tries to have fake Monlyon beg for mercy, but Monlyon sees through the lord’s deception and mocks him for his cowardice as well. He removes his face to reveal his true self.

So the cat is out of the bag and Munsu summons his power against Lord Byon’s army, spawning an army of CGI-rendered masked phantom soldiers. I imagine this is what the Joker’s army would look like if he were given the power to summon Satan’s army.

Blade of the Phantom Master Phantom Soldiers
Killing you with a smile on their faces.

And I’m not gonna lie. Those designs are pretty kickass.

The Phantom Soldiers slaughter the guards as Lord Byon stands in horror. The villagers cheer but Munsu once again reprimands them for not rebelling against their lord.

But then we get a surprise guest.

Blade of the Phantom Master Chun-Hyang
Wait, WHAT?!

And believe it or not, this is where I believe the movie starts crumbling. Chun-Hyang is somehow blessed with superhuman abilities, allowing her to wield an enormous claw-gauntlet as a weapon while possessing enhanced strength, speed, and jumping ability. This easily turns her into a one-man army, capable of even crushing Munsu’s Phantom Army without a bead of sweat.

Blade of the Phantom Master Chun-Hyang 1

Blade of the Phantom Master Chun-Hyang 2
No really, that is is seriously what is happening now.

Uhhh, yeah. If you want to portray your badass protagonist’s special ability, you shouldn’t undermine it by having a single, almost nude person slaughtering your hellish army moments after first showcasing it.

And before you ask, is this what Lord Byon summoned a hypnotist for? Well, yes and no. Yes, because then Chun-Hyang would do his bidding. No, because you couldn’t just hypnotize someone to have SUPERHUMAN ABILITIES. That’s not how hypnotism works!

…I’m looking at you, One Piece.

But even if that sort of thing is possible in this world, how come Lord Byon doesn’t use it on himself instead of having to rely on mercenaries for protection? Why did he even need mercenaries to begin with, if he can easily hypnotize a superweapon that he had locked up in his basement?

And again, before you ask, no. They never explained why Chun-Hyang has these abilities in the movie. If she had these abilities before getting kidnapped by Lord Byon, how come Monlyon never mentioned it? And if Lord Byon had this insanely OP warrior the whole time, what the hell was he so afraid of?

…Hehe. I’m back, baby.

So Munsu and Chun-Hyang duke it out while Lord Byon giggles at the sidelines like a schoolgirl.

Lord Byon: Now the tide has turned on! You can see my girl is a natural fighter! Took me over half a year to catch that one.

There’s a difference between “natural fighter” and “god mode.” Really, when and how? Details on the capture. Please.

But while the fight goes on, Lord Byon gets what was coming to him.

Blade of the Phantom Master Lord Byon's Demise
Uhhhh, shiet….

Munsu finds himself cornered and is exhausted to the point of clutching his chest. He tries to catch Chun-Hyang off her guard, but ends up failing. This allows her to prepare the killing blow.

Blade of the Phantom Master Chun-Hyang Gauntlet
HA! What the hell?

Anime can conjure up some of the craziest imagery ever. That claw-gauntlet probably has more mass than her entire body. And she looks like she’s floating like a bed sheet ghost rather than having leapt off the ground.

And BS alert.

Blade of the Phantom Master Headband

With just a single look at the headband that Munsu coincidentally received from Monlyon, this has Chun-Hyang flash back to a specific memory of Monlyon where she gives him a headband as a gift. We also get a little exposition of Monlyon saying that Chun-Hyang can become his “Sando,” a type of bodyguard for the Amen-Osa.

Blade of the Phantom Master Chun-Hyang
The weird thing about this flashback is that she hasn’t said a single word of dialogue in it. It’s just a one-sided conversation with Monlyon while she just responds verbally.

And back in the present, she just magically stops in mid-air even though she did a superhuman leap towards Munsu just a moment ago.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu and Chun-Hyang
Because in anime, fuck the laws of physics.

Wow. I wasn’t expecting a fucking HEADBAND to be the Chekhov’s Gun plot device here.

Why was he wearing that thing anyway? It’s not like he was close enough to Monlyon to wear it as some sort of memorial. I admit, the Chekhov’s Gun is a valiant effort but this moment still comes across as a bit of a deus ex machina. Munsu received that headband just by pure coincidence. If he hadn’t blown up those goblins from earlier, he would have never gotten it to begin with.

After the battle, Munsu finds the villagers celebrating, with Lord Byon’s head on a pike. Well, good, that means the movie is over, right?

Blade of the Phantom Master Sunset
HA HA! NOPE!

Munsu and Chun-Hyang have built a memorial in honor of Monlyon. Munsu even went as far as explaining to her about his whole ordeal from earlier, even dropping the specific detail of using his dead body as a meat shield.

Blade of the Phantom Master Chun-Hyang Crying
But don’t worry. Munsu said he was SAAAAWRY.

And before you think Chun-Hyang is a mute, she speaks her first word in the movie, “Sando.”

Well, that was awkward.

So she adopts the name of Sando and offers her protection to Munsu as he travels across the land. And the way she just stalks him while keeping her distance the whole time… is just weird.

Blade of the Phantom Master Chun-Hyang

And this behavior is… only implied. Sando comes across as this soft-spoken, socially awkward individual whose origins remain a mystery. She always keeps her distance from Munsu, even though she feels that she owes him a debt—or at least that is how I interpret her character motive. It’s to the point where she obsessively watches him sleep. The two have never spoken to each other for some time.

But a minor explanation later in the movie may suggest that she does this because a Sando should remain hidden while protecting an Amen-Osa. But it is not like she looks like a bodyguard to begin with. She always wear this brown shroud covering her entire body, which conceals her sword and SOMEHOW her ginormous gauntlet. She could just be shy, but the movie doesn’t really clarify any of this.

All we know about Sando is that she is the former lover of Monlyon and that she wields unexplained superhuman abilities.

Okay, maybe she did end up studying to become a Sando but then how the flying fuck did Lord Byon capture her in the first place? The lack of explanations here is just maddening.

However, we do get some nice scenery porn in this silent montage of traveling.

Blade of the Phantom Master Chun-Hyang

Then cue awkwardly placed slideshow of sepia tone still images.

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So we’re about halfway through the movie. Yeah, you’d think there would be nothing else to show here. So guess what? We get a different story arc in our hour and a half of runtime.

Just when you think the movie is about to come to an end, it just continues off with Munsu dealing with a fisherman selling guns.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu with Gun
Say hello to my little friend.

Then Munsu summons his Phantom Soldiers to beat up the man for smuggling, but proceeds to steal a hidden gun to be concealed in a sleeve from him. Huh. Wow.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu
Dude, talk about a mood whiplash.

I just realized something. If this is supposed to be based on feudal Korea, how come there are seemingly contemporary pistols and shotguns in this era? All we need is for Munsu to carry an Uzi and the anachronism will be complete.

Munsu encounters a young man who has washed up ashore. He begs Munsu for his aid, but Munsu just tells him to piss off.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu and Jyun

I’m confused here. I thought Amen-Osa were supposed to be traveling vigilantes who go undercover and root out corrupt governments. The guy just abused his supernatural power to pound the shit out of the fisherman AND steal one of his guns just a while ago. And here he is, turning down a plea for help concerning the boy’s village. What the hell had you spent all that time walking across the land for then?

And that is the problem with Munsu’s character. He is this supposedly badass, tough-talking lone wolf who keeps to himself and deals justice whenever he feels like it. We believe he is embittered by Jushin’s fall and he despises evil, but he is also not very generous to give people his aid even though there were people who gave him aid. And he was thankful for it. I wouldn’t trust this man to pay it forward, for sure.

Not only is it difficult to like this man, he doesn’t seem to have a specific goal in mind. Just like with Sando, we don’t know much about this man’s past. He just sort of wanders about until he stumbles upon a new story arc. He doesn’t seem to be out for revenge or is in any hurry to die, so we’re just sort of in story limbo right now.

Blade of the Phantom Master boat

But Munsu inspects the leaves in the boy’s hand and decide to accompany him to his island. I’m not exactly sure what staring at some leaves made him change his mind, but okay. I guess something is happening now.

The scene doesn’t go by without Munsu berating the boy for forgetting why he came in the first place. I probably would too. Then Munsu has Sando agree to following his every command.

Blade of the Phantom Master Sando
Oh shit, what have I gotten myself into?

Yeah, you read that right. Even though Sando has volunteered to be Munsu’s bodyguard, she has been basically demoted to his slave. Just like how she was one for Lord Byon.

 

Blade of the Phantom Master Desert Bat
And I’m still in this picture for some reason. Why am I here again?

As if this movie needs some kawaii to lighten things up. You don’t just throw in a cute sidekick into a dark and edgy story for no reason. It’s exactly what it implies: pointless.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu, Chun-Hyang, and Jyun

So rolling into our next little adventure, the group arrives on the island. In spire of Munsu getting the welcome treatment, the young boy known as Jyun gets apprehended by the guards. A white-haired doctor injects a needle into his neck, claiming the boy has gone delirious.

Blade of the Phantom Master Yuite

So this possible male version of Nurse Ratched known as Yuite introduces himself to Munsu and claims that Jyun is acting crazy out of his family being murdered by pirates. Despite the big talk of pirates harassing the island, the village seems strangely peaceful. Munsu decides to stay the night.

Blade of the Phantom Master Jyun and Yo

And later that night, Munsu decides to take a walk and encounters Jyun and a young woman. Munsu notices the scar of the needle that Doctor Yuite used on Jyun earlier and questions why Jyun is acting like he doesn’t remember him. The young woman speaks in his stead.

Yo: Excuse me, sir. I’m Jyun’s older sister, Yo.

Yo, Yo.

Yo: He’s very sick right now and is under Master Yuite’s care. Master Yuite is a gifted physician, but on this island he is known as a miracle man.
Munsu: What’s that supposed to mean?
Jyun: He came here only a few years ago. And in that time, he saved countless people from the jaws of certain death. It’s the power of his needle. It even has the power to bring the dead back to life.

But Munsu doesn’t buy into this story of miracles and believes Yuite to be a fraud. I would too after hearing from Yuite saying Jyun’s family died but failing to mention that his sister survived. Jyun and Yo decide to leave without saying another word.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu
This also seems to be his other defining trait present in both story arcs. The fact that he doesn’t believe in miracles.

The next morning, Munsu walks into a forest where he finds something mildly disturbing.

Blade of the Phantom Master Mandarake Trees with Breasts
Wow. I haven’t seen boobs on a tree since viewing The Last Unicorn.

Also, I better hope you’re talking about the trees themselves, not the…

*shudders*

He also pulls out a weed on the ground, finding them similar to the leaves that Jyun was holding earlier.

Blade of the Phantom Master Mandarake
And a brief encounter with a screeching mandrake.

You know, the funny thing about this scene is that mandrakes are more commonly associated with European myths than Asian. I don’t know if anthropomorphic roots are also a common thing in Korean folklore.

But Doctor Yuite walks in and the two engage in conversation. Munsu points out that the doctor resembles a man he met in the past, possessing a similar ability to bring back the dead. After Munsu leaves, Yuite gives him the evil eye.

Blade of the Phantom Master Yuite Evil Eye
Hisssss…

Munsu confronts Jyun and Yo, trying to force Jyun to remember why he left the island earlier. Things don’t go as planned though and Munsu leaves without getting an answer.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu and Mari

Later that night, a mysterious assassin confronts Munsu and attempts to claim his life. Sando comes to his rescue and the two are able to fend off the assassin. But Munsu berates Sando for disobeying his previous orders and tosses Monlyon’s headband away.

Munsu: There… take it and go! It’s about time you got it through your thick skull. I’m not a replacement for your dead boyfriend, darling. I’m not carrying his torch for you, do you understand me? A Sando is a servant. Not a bodyguard, a servant. Just following orders would be enough. If you can’t do that, I got no use for ya. Better get. Why don’t you forget me and get out of my sight.

Damn. That is harsh, especially when this girl has been traveling with you this whole time.

But Munsu finds it in his cold heart to forgive her. Later that night, he reminisces of what Jyun said to him the other night. Then we cut to a weird, CGI-rendered dream of Jyun encountering a bizarre demon.

Blade of the Phantom Master Devil Yuite
Okay, that is actually a bit frightening… Like a certain disturbing little memory…
AHH! WHAT THE FLYING FUCK!

And strangely enough, Munsu and Jyun were both having this same dream. Huh.

The next morning, Munsu has a meal with the nobles of the island, including Doctor Yuite. He recounts of an old tale just like with the island’s, of pirates and their desire to acquire the mandarake plants.

But Jyun bursts in into the meal and points out that Yuite is none other than a winged devil. Having lost his patience, Munsu shoots the other nobles and attempts to kill Yuite. However, the female assassin from the other night bursts in.

Blade of the Phantom Master Mari Slices Munsu and Jyun
Lulz. With blood bursting out like wildfire.

But it turns out the bodies were fake the whole time. Wait, what.

Blade of the Phantom Master Tags
Did… Did Munsu seriously pull a Substitution Jutsu?

Talonflame Wat Meme

Oh god, I made a Naruto reference.

*blows his brains out with a shotgun*

Anyways, we learn that the assassin’s name is Mari and she has a… ahem, “special” relationship with Yuite.

Blade of the Phantom Master Yuite and Mari

Meanwhile, Munsu and the gang set the island’s forest on fire to destroy the mandarake plants. He hands a gun to Jyun, encouraging him to learn the truth behind the island. Munsu orders Sando to make sure that the forest burns completely.

Blade of the Phantom Master Jyun with a Gun
It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.

Munsu walks into the village, slaughtering the villagers without mercy. Rather than telling Jyun what is actually happening, Munsu gives him probably the most stressful decision of his life: either shoot his own sister or let Munsu do it. That way, he will learn the real truth behind the island.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu

And I’m not gonna lie. This moment is actually quite brilliant. It’s intense but it also tugs at your heartstrings.

Blade of the Phantom Master Jyun and Yo

A flashback, displayed as static drawings, shows that the villagers had been slaughtered by an epidemic in the past and that Yuite appeared one day to give them a serum made from mandarake, bringing them all back to life. It is also the same serum used to erase Jyun’s memories, allowing him to see exactly what he wants to see.

Upon this realization, Jyun kills his own sister.

Blade of the Phantom Master Dead Yo
Damn. That is depressing…

Yuite appears before them, claiming he did it all to ease Jyun’s pain and confirming the fact that he bounded the souls of the dead to live unnatural lives. He then shows his true appearance and sends the dead after them.

Blade of the Phantom Master Zombie Yo
Oh shit! It’s the walking dead!
Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu
…But we do. I mean, why did Yuite need Jyun anyway?

And that’s another question left unanswered. We don’t know what Yuite gets from all this. but Jyun did mention that the doctor came to the island a few years ago. So obviously, Yuite is quite committed to what he does. But why does he do it? Who knows.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu An Amen-Osa Stands Before You

So Munsu shouts his catchphrase and summons his own Phantom Army to eliminate the zombie villagers.

Blade of the Phantom Master Jyun
Man, this kid is going to end up in an asylum after this.

Blade of the Phantom Master Chun-Hyang and Mary Fighting

Meanwhile, Sando is confronted by the assassin Mari. And for some reason, Mari has this weird pseudo-Australian accent. Reminds me of those female Splicer assassins from Bioshock.

Mari criticizes Sando for basically being a tool—which she is by this point—and challenges her to a duel.

Blade of the Phantom Master Yuite

Munsu and Yuite make idle banter as the two ready themselves for a standoff.

Blade of the Phantom Master Mari
We still don’t know at this point. Please stop pointing out your own unanswered questions.

But despite that, the whole fight sequence between Sando and Mari is pretty cool to watch.

Blade of the Phantom Master Chun-Hyang
And now, she just takes out the gauntlet. Why wasn’t she using it earlier?

The fight ends with Sando impaling Mari, who is revealed to be another living corpse revived by Yuite. Well, I guess that’s enough to explain Mari’s motive in all this.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu and Yuite

However, our other fight ends too quickly. Apparently, Yuite can summon lightning. Go figure.

But in a rather anti-climactic move, Munsu attempts an Assassin’s Creed and pulls out the hidden pistol he stole from the gun smuggler from earlier and shoots Yuite in the head.

Blade of the Phantom Master Hidden Gun
Holy crap. It’s a literal Chekhov’s Gun!

Two of those kinds of plot devices in this movie. I’m strangely impressed.

Sadly, it didn’t work as Yuite is impervious to bullet wounds. Oh. Damn it.

Blade of the Phantom Master Yuite Headshot
Eh. Just a flesh wound.

But just as Yuite is about to inject a lethal poison into Munsu, ANOTHER deus ex machina appears.

Blade of the Phantom Master Yuite Beheaded
Oh, damn it! Really? REALLY?!

Yeah, Sando has just stolen victory. Way to go, Mister Amen-Osa.

You know, the funny thing is that Munsu hasn’t resolved either of the conflicts in the movie by himself. Both were by some fucking coincidence and somehow involved Sando. The first time, Sando just breaks down crying upon seeing that damn headband. The second time, Sando once again disobeys her orders from Munsu to behead Yuite.

Whether this conflict ends on the gunshot or the beheading, this is still a disappointing way to defeat the bad guy. It would’ve been a little better if the gunshot did him in since there was a bit of a setup for it. It would also be better if Munsu and Yuite enter a climactic battle, just like Sando had with Mari. Sando butting into this particular conflict came out of nowhere and had no setup whatsoever. It just happens. Boom.

It’s like when you have the hero’s sidekick save the day, in a way that portrays the hero as even weaker than the sidekick despite the buildup his power receives. Or in a video game, this is like “kill stealing.” You would think an Amen-Osa would be overqualified for this sort of thing.

But anyways, the devil man is trying to regenerate and his head reveals its true hideous form.

Blade of the Phantom Master Yuite Head
I’M INVINCIBLE!

But out of nowhere, Munsu has already placed dynamite on Yuite’s headless body and blows it up to prevent the head from trying to reattach itself. The Yuite head surrenders and asks what is the name of the person who he reminded Munsu of.

The answer: Ajite.

And this is the first time we get any insight to what Munsu’s motive is. To find and kill the man named Ajite. Yuite confesses that he would’ve liked to meet the man before finally croaking.

Blade of the Phantom Master Yuite Dead
Well, farewell, Doctor Plot Device. I guess.

But despite all this happening, the movie hasn’t answered one question concerning these events: why does Munsu consider it necessary to destroy this island in the first place? You can argue that he did it because Yuite is an evil force exploiting the dead for an unknown purpose, but we have no idea what that purpose is still. As far as we’re concerned, everyone was happy and even Yuite had no problem keeping these people alive. So it’s hard to say if Munsu is truly doing the villagers a favor by killing them again or if he is rolling on a self-righteous quest.

So with the island pretty much destroyed, the movie comes to a close as Munsu comforts a grieving Jyun, who watches the last of his memories burn away.

Blade of the Phantom Master Jyun Crying

But then…

Blade of the Phantom Master Jyun Suicide

Yep. Jyun himself was also resurrected by Yuite, having died from the epidemic himself. Munsu assured him Jyun had never lost his humanity and that it was only natural for humans to want to believe in miracles but can also see the truth. With a last smile, Jyun takes his own life.

Munsu: Farewell, Jyun. What does a human being need above all else? I wonder, for what he really needs is courage. Courage to stare without faltering, into the wide, blue sky.

So after that dramatic sendoff, Sando once again begs Munsu for his forgiveness for disobeying orders, but he seems to be in a good enough mood to let this one slide.

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu and Desert Bat
I did.

The movie ends with the three leaving the island, with Munsu saying, “Rest in peace, Jyun.”

Blade of the Phantom Master Munsu and Chun-Hyang Farewell


 

For what is a pretty cool idea, this adaptation is definitely rough around the edges. It has its powerful moments, but some of them are undone by a rushed pacing and the fact that the movie fails to drop in some important details. This is one instance where some more exposition would’ve helped: to give more context to what the role of Amen-Osa entails, how the kingdom of Jushin fell, where Chun-Hyang receives her abilities, why Yuite went to such lengths to enslave a village of dead people, and what Munsu’s real motive is (apparently concerning a man named Ajite).

On my first viewing, I didn’t like this movie. But with this one, I can see where its strengths lie too. The art and animation look pretty spectacular. Even the CGI, though slightly dated, doesn’t look that bad either. The art and soundtrack help add to the movie’s atmosphere, making it at least some nice eye candy.

While the story and characterizations are definitely lacking, I can say the second half of the story is executed better since it plays around with some emotionally powerful scenes.

While Munsu is not a very likable character, there are still those short moments when he reveals his compassionate side. He’s far from being on my list of “bad” main characters but he does still fall short based on his portrayal here.

Chun-Hyang, on the other hand, has very little personality to her considering very little is revealed to begin with. While it’s understandable that she can be an “action speaks louder than words” type of character, it would still be nice to know why she follows Munsu to begin with. As far as I’m concerned, her servitude is a symbol of her gratitude for freeing her and her kingdom, as well as carrying on Monlyon’s original task. Otherwise, she doesn’t really stand out as a well-defined character.

Some viewers of this movie also point out that there is no “blade” to speak of, seeing as how Munsu never carries one. However, they also point out that “blade” is just a metaphor of Chun-Hyang herself, which makes some sense since she does fight with a sword. And of course, Munsu is the “phantom master.”

But in a strange way, this would imply that Chun-Hyang is the real main character of the story, though the movie fails to show that. Or this could be just a simple case similar to The Legend of Zelda, which is more to do with Link than Zelda herself.

With all this said, the anime did one thing right: it got me interested in the manhwa. Is it as bad as I thought it was before? Nah. Average? Mmm, yeah. For the first animated collaboration between Korean and Japanese artists, it certainly shows promise at least and I appreciate the effort to make a good business partnership. I’m willing to give this series another chance and see how the manhwa turns out.

Blade of the Phantom Master

Price Varies
Blade of the Phantom Master
6.375

STORY

6/10

    CHARACTERS

    6/10

      ART & ANIMATION

      8/10

        SOUNDTRACK

        7/10

          Pros

          • Beautiful art and animation, with some cleverly placed CGI.
          • Atmospheric music.
          • Some well done scenes that add to the intended drama.
          • Demonstrates a high potential to be a gripping story, ripe with a fascinating mythology  and complex character motivations.

          Cons

          • The characters are rather flat and certainly beg to be more complex.
          • The fact that the movie covers two unrelated story arcs, which makes the whole experience feel oddly short.
          • The rushed pacing, which makes context more difficult to pick up upon.
          • The missing exposition that would've at least given more context about the events that happened.
          • The "final battle" is anti-climactic and unsatisfying, in a desperate need to be longer and more fulfilling.
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