Cheongpung myeongwol (Sword in the Moon) (2003) 





Director:     .

Starring:     Min-su Choi (Choi, Ji-hwan), Jae-hyeon Jo (Yun, Gyu-yeob), Bo-kyeong Kim (Shi-yeong), Jong-su Lee (Jae-deok), Yeon-su Yu, Ju-bong Gi, Seon-hwan Jeong, Sang-geon Jo.

story of three friends caught up in a rebellion against the Korean King, following the Japanese invasions, 1592-1598




Spoiler Warning:

One man asks another about a man named Gyu-up:  "Is he always that brutal?"  The other man says:  "No one can beat his swordsmanship. . . . That's why he's called the human butcher."  

An assassin drops in on a celebration.  His plan is to kill the King of the Joseon Dynasty.  He starts mowing down the guards with his swordsmanship, that is, until he faces the human butcher.  Gyu-yup wounds the man enough to bring him to his knees.  The assassin says to the King:  "Do you think your rebellion was a success?"  Gyu-yup now cuts off the man's head.  Gyu-yup then apologizes to His Highness for the disturbance. 

Chosun Dynasty, Night of Hanyang (now Seoul).  The head of a beheaded man is put in a place where it can be clearly seen by others.

A man comes to see Gyu-yup, saying:  "Many ministers are inquiring about your help."  They feel their lives are threatened.  Gyu-yup says the man should inquire at the Justice Ministry.  Gyu-yup is the captain of the guards.  The visitor says that he will take over the job of guarding the King. He wants Gyu-yup to investigate a murder case involving a high Minister.  If he can catch the murderer, he will be well rewarded.  A man comes into the room and whispers in the ear of the visitor that still another minister has been killed.

Gyu-yup tags along to see the dead man.  The body has been hung up in the middle of a room with the use of ropes on the victim's two arms stretched out on both sides.  Some other Ministers show up and want to see the body.  One of the Ministers declares that heaven is punishing him as well as all of them.  The fellow gets so carried away that he falls dead of a heart attack. 

In the morning another Minister is found hanging from a tree limb with a sword all the way through his chest.  A man says that the punishment for high treason is decapitation of dead ancestors.  Gyu-yup tells the man to shut up. 

Gyu-yup meets with his staff.  One of the staff remarks:  "After the restoration, hundreds of officials were beheaded during a purge.  The two murdered Ministers took part in it."  Gyu-yup tells his staff to start with the relatives of the beheaded officials and keep watch over the remaining six Ministers of the group of eight that oversaw the executions following the restoration.  Gyu-yup adds that he doesn't really care about the lives of the Ministers.  He is only concerned that his staff does its job. 

There is a meeting to discuss what to do about the assassin.  A man marches into the meeting and asks what is all this fuss about just one assassin? 

A Minister is having fun with a woman in a hot tub.  (brief nudity)  The woman becomes aware of a stranger in the room.  The Minister looks around.  The stranger moves toward the Minister.  The Minister asks him:  "What are you doing?  I'm not the one you're after.  I'm the one who hired you."   He tells the assassin that if he lets him go, he will pay the hired killer double.

Another Minister is attacked and a sword fight begins. The Minister is slashed with the sword and he falls through the door and lands part-way out of the building. 

Both ministers are now killed.  So, there are at least two assassins if not more and one of them looks like a female.  Guards try to grab the first assassin, but the assassin slashes all of them down.  More guards chase the assassin.  One guard is lucky, because the assassin subdues him but doesn't kill him.  More guards are killed. 

Gyu-yup arrives and goes up on the roof after the first assassin.  He sees the assassin, but the assassin jumps off the other end of the roof. 

The man whose life was spared tells Gyu-yup that on the assassin's swords there were words inscribed on it.  It said:  "Sword in the Moon". 

Gyu-yup goes to visit a Minister.  The fellow is working in a restricted area  --  restricted by the King's command.  The Minister protests, but is silenced by Gyu-yup by placing his sword up against the Minister's throat.  The Minister is in charge of many documents.  Gyu-yup wants some information about the Sword in the Moon.  The Minister shows him a document.

The subdued guard who was released by the assassin is busy practicing his swordsmanship at night.  His superior asks him what is he doing?  The humbled man says he felt disgraced for not being strong enough to handle the assassin.  A drunken off-duty guard says the young man doesn't really know what it means to be disgraced.  He leaves.  He passes by Gyu-yup who asks the drunk if he remember Choi Ji-hwan?   The drunk asks him if the man is still alive? 

A narrator says:  "The people called our army 'Sword in the Moon'. . . .  A sword in the moon prepares for a bright day."

A minister is being carried in a palanquin through a wooded area.  The guards come to an area where there are lots of snakes hanging on the branches of the trees. While the guards and carriers are concerned with the snakes, an assassin sneaks up from behind the Minister who came out of his palanquin to see what was going on.  The assassin kills the Minister. 

On horseback, Gyu-yup chases the assassin riding on a horse.  Gyu-yup loses the man in the chase.  He goes to a clearing in the woods of a bamboo forest and gets off his horse.  And there among the bamboo on horseback is the assassin.  Gyu-yup says to him that he had hoped it wouldn't be him.  He adds that if the man ever shows up again, Gyu-yup will kill him.   The man rides over to Gyu-yup to show that he is not afraid of him.  He could have killed Gyu-yup as Gyu-yup held his sword down astride his leg, but, instead, he sheaths his sword and leaves. 

A Minister threatened by death from an assassin is upset that Gyu-yup just let the assassin go.  Gyu-yup tells the two Ministers to refrain from wine and women for awhile.  The threatened Minister throws some object at Gyu-yup and wounds the man on top of his head.  He asks Gyu-yup how dare he speak this way to a Minister:  "You're nothing but a concubine's son."  Gyu-up clenches his sword hard.  The other Minister says to Gyu-yup:  "A dog should never bite its owner even if it's mad.  Leave here this instant!"   

The jailor lets the criminals out of their cells.  He says that they're all guilty of high treason and will die in jail.  They can, however, be set free if they catch the assassin. 

A woman bathes herself in the water by a waterfall.  (brief nudity)  The assassin watches out for her.  He has a flashback to when he was in battle.  He is wounded in battle, but gets a good look at the man's carved wooden fish on his necklace.

The woman takes two swords and dresses up like a ninja.  She sneaks into a house and up on a man perhaps praying on his knees.  She prepares herself to deliver the blow when men with spears jump out from the corners of the room.  The assassin is vastly outnumber in this trap.  She has to head for the roofs of the buildings to get away from all those instruments of death.  Gyu-yup is there when they corner the assassin.  He waits, while she kills quite a few swordsmen.  Gyu-yup has to intervene or he will lose too many men.  He wounds the woman and she falls to the ground.  Now they have her where they want her. 

A guard takes off the woman's head dress.  Gyu-yup knows her.  Gyu-yup has a flashback. 

Flashback.  He is fighting enemy warriors off while trying to save a wounded man's life by getting the man out of the area, but more and more of the enemy is coming at him.  An archer sees the damage Gyu-yup is doing to their troops.  He shoots an arrow into Gyu-yup.  Gyu-yup falls down, but gets up and gets another arrow wound.  He falls off the ridge into the water.  Someone jumps into the water and saves him.  The next thing he knows is that he's on the shore with his wounds bandaged.  A nearby man asks him if he's feeling better now? 

It's the future assassin, Ji-hwan.  He's carving a wooden fish.  He tells Gyu-yup that he is going back home now, but he would like it if his new friend would come and see him there. 

A special military unit called Sword in the Moon is assembled to help keep the peace in Korea. The troops have a contest to see who can hold their breath the longest under water.  The last two men underwater are Ji-hwan and Gyu-yup.  Gyu-yup wins just by a couple of seconds. 

The troops will be divided up.  Many of them will return as guards, but others will protect the nation's borders.  The boss man says he's worried about the country because the northern barbarians are getting stronger.  Moreover, foreigners are waiting to attack.  And then rivalries are endless and the court is full of frauds.  He offers a toast:  "Here's to the bright era Sword in the Moon seeks!"

In the group there is a woman who is the daughter of the sword master of the elite military unit, who will be the future ninja-type assassin.  Ji-hwan and Gyu-yup watch her practice her swordsmanship.  The woman seems to like Ji-hwan. 

The two men ride their horses and talk.  Gyu-yup says that his friend has taken a real liking to Shi-young.  The future assassin says yes. 

Two years later.  The two buddies are split up by being put into two different groups. Gyu-up gets a letter from Shi-young, who is in Seoul.  A colleague teases him that he and Shi-young must be a solid pair by now.  One day the boss man tells the troops that a revolt (a coup d'etat) has risen in Seoul!  And the whole country is in crisis.  The troops depart for Seoul.  Gyu-yup leaves the troops behind to deliver a warning to Ji-hwan.

A General asks the swordsmanship master of the Sword in the Moon troops to join the rebellion.  Meanwhile, Gyu-yup tells Ji-hwan that it's best for the fellow to leave here.  Ji-hwan says he has to think about it, but Gyyu-up tells him that there's no time. 

The swordsmanship mater  from the Sword in the Moon, Kim In, is going to kill his daughter Shi-young so she won't fall into the hands of the rebels.  Ji-hwan arrives at about the time the father is going to strike the fatal blow.  The father stops himself.  Instead, he tells her to leave this place and go someplace where no one will be able to find her.

When Gyu-yup gets back, he receives a punishment worse than death.  All the men under Guy-up's command will be beheaded.  Gyu-yup says he and his men will take the lead into battle if the General spares their lives.  The General says he can't trust Gyu-yup and will continue the executions.  But then the rebel King tells the General to stop what he's doing.  He asks Gyu-yup what will he do for him if he trusts Gyu-yup?  Gyu-yup says that he will be his to command forever.  The rebel King says that's good.  And the first duty for Gyu-yup will to bring the next King the head of Kim In. 

Gyu-yup hesitates, so Kim In tells him to take off his head right now.  The deed is done.  Gyu-yup now gives out with a horrendous shout of emotional pain. 

Now Gyu-yup's rebel part of the Sword in the Moon troops fight Ji-hwan's other part of the Sword in the Moon.  Gyu-yup badly wounds Ji-hwan and thinks the man is dead.   

Back to the present.  Gyu-yup now has control over Shi-young.  The rebel General tells the torturer:  "If she won't talk, rip this bitch's body apart and throw it out on the street."

Ji-hwan comes into the town and is chased by the guards.  He gets away by hiding in the reeds.  So his pursuers decide to set the reed field on fire.  While in the reeds, Gyu-yup manages to kill two men trying to destroy him. 

Meanwhile, Shi-young is being tortured and Gyu-yup stands there and watches.  He does tell the torturer to stop.  She tells him:  "I should've killed you first.  If you have any memories left, kill me now."

Ji-hwan makes it to the prison.  Gyu-yup is there, but he decides to let Ji-hwan rescue Shi-young.  Ji-hwan kills the guards around Shi-young (scene not shown), and then rides away on horseback carrying Shi-young with him.  He puts herbs on Shi-young to help her heal. 

A colleague of Gyu-yup tells the butcher that he is afraid that the assassin will kill him next.  Guy-yup says would the man rather kill himself than live in this fear of death?  He leaves the scared man's side. 

Private Suh barges into Gyu-yup's quarters, while two soldiers try to control the private's rage.  He says the men agreed to follow Gyu-yup, but now they are only lowlife soldiers who killed their Sword in the Moon comrades.  The private pulls out his sword and slits his own throat. 

The rebel King now sits on the throne.  The rebel General has become disenchanted with the new King.  He tells the King:  "Who are those damn replacements for the dead Ministers?  You put idiots in those posts, and disregard the time we shed blood for the rebellion?"   The King says he can't just forget the people.  And now they must calm the Court. The General is concerned that the King wants him dead.  He reminds the King:  "I'm the one who made you King.  How can you betray me?"

At his home the General sends his assistant out to bring some more men to protect him.  The man leaves.  Then an assassin comes by order of the King to kill the General.  The assassin throws down a satchel and the head of the General's assistant rolls on the floor.  Actually, the General's home is surrounded by a team of assassins.  The assassin in the home walks toward the General who backs up against the thin walls of the home.  Another assassin now shoves his sword through the thin wall and through the body of the General.  As the main assassin leaves the General's property he kills Private Jang on duty. 

Shi-young awakens in the morning.  She opens a door and sees Ji-hwan standing by a cliff looking out at the surroundings. 

An assistant rushes over to Gyu-yup to tell him that Minister Jung Yeo-kyoon is dead, but "the" assassin did not do it.  Private Jang is also dead.

Gyu-yup comes to see the King.  The King tells him that what "the" assassin really wants is to kill the King.  He then says he knows Guy-yup still remembers his oath to his King.  Just then an arrow with a note on it is shot into one of the wooden posts in the throne room.  Guy-yup runs after the archer, while the King read the notes:  "You will finally be executed.  So take care of yourself until your excursion tomorrow."  Ji-hwan gets behind his pursuer and puts his blade up near Gyu-yup's neck.  Gyu-yup raises his sword and the fight is on.  Ji-hwan stops the fight when he gets his sword in a position to cut
Gyu-yup's jugular vein. Both men stop fighting.  They exchange a few words with each other and then Ji-hwan leaves peacefully leaving Gyu-yup just standing there. 

Gyu-yup is now in a tub of water.  Is he trying to kill himself?  Who knows?  An assistant comes along and pulls Gyu-yup out of the water. 

Shi-young speaks with Ji-hwan about ever since the death of her father she has sought revenge and never once looked back on her actions.  Ji-hwan fixes two cups of tea, but puts something in the cup for Shi-young.  He tells her that she saved his life in that battle against the rebel forces.  Both people fall to sleep. 

The King is going on his excursion as planned.  In the morning Shi-young awakens and finds that Ji-hwan has already left the house. 

A boat with some explosives in it bumps up against the bridge the King's procession is crossing.  They suddenly realize that the boat may be part of a trap.  At about the same time a flaming arrow hits the bags of explosives and the bomb explodes.  Now Shi-young charges the procession firing arrows as she goes, trying to hit the King.  Meanwhile, Ji-hwan goes into action.  He infiltrated the procession and now puts his sword in action.  He kills some guards to get at the King.  Other guards trip Shi-young's horse and she lands on the bridge.  She jumps up and starts sword fighting with the guards.  Ji-hwan reaches the King, but he is so concerned about Shi-young that he looks around to see what is happening to her.  This gives the King enough time to stab Ji-hwan with a dagger.  Then another guard knocks Ji-hwan off the King's platform.  The guard then jumps at Ji-hwan, but the assassin dodges his body and the guard falls into the river.  

Shi-young and Ji-hwan are being wounded as they fight off the big group of guards.  Just how much more punishment can the two assassins take?  He bends down to pick up Shi-young who is badly hurt, as is Ji-hwan.  She closes her eyes and dies.  Now Ji-hwan gets even madder and he tries to make his way up to kill the King.  Ji-hwan is now hit with three arrows, but to the rescue comes Gyu-yup on his horse.  The troops make way for their commander.  He then gets off his horse and comes over to Ji-hwan.  Gyu-yup tells him to give him his sword.  That way Ji-hwan will be able to live.  He slowly takes the sword from Ji-hwan.  He puts Ji-hwan on his horse and walks the horse over to the King. 

Gyu-yup says to the King:  "Please let us go free.  I want to return to the old days.  Please, I beg you."  There's no response from the King.  Ji-hwan takes out his sword.  Then Gyu-yup takes out his sword.  They stand back to back to fight off the guards. 

Flashback. "When we were underwater, I could hold my breath for a long time because you were with me. Because you were always by my side.  And even if I drowned, I knew you would save me."

Back to the present.  Ji-hwan goes down and probably Gyu-yup soon followed. 


Good movie, but at times very confusing.  I had to read the Wikipedia summary to help make sense of the film.  The film is set after the end of the Japanese invasions of Korea, the period of 1592-1598.  I am not certain, but we do know that King Gwanghaegun was overthrown by the Westerners factions (part of the factions that plagued the reign of Seonjo) by a rebellion and was replaced by King Injo.  Well even if this part is not correct, we still get a chance to think about three Kings:  Seonjo, Gwanghaegun and Injo.  The movie itself deals with three people, two men and a woman, who were part of the Sword in the Moon elite military group that was formed to help keep the peace in Korea.  The organization had very idealistic goals as did our three heroes.  But this idealism kind of gets lost in the rebellion against the sitting king.  The friends find themselves on different sides during the rebellion putting real strains on their relationships.  Will they be forced to kill each other by being on different sides during the rebellion and its aftermath?

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


15671608 --  reign of Seonjo. 

1592-1598  --  two Japanese invasions of Korea. 

16081623  -- reign of Gwanghaegun.  He was the second son of King Seonjo, born to Lady Kim (Gongbin), a concubine.  He was deposed in a coup by the Westerners faction.

16231649  --   reign of Injo.  He was the grandson of Seonjo.  He did not have any authority since almost all of the power was held by the Western faction. 

1624  --  Yi Gwal Rebellion.  Yi Gwal thought he was treated unfairly and received too small reward for his role in the coup.   He rebelled against Injo.  He was a General and won the Battle of Jeotan. Injo fled to Gongju, and Hanseong (today's Seoul) fell into the hands of the rebels.  Yi Gwal was, in turn, defeated on the battlefield.  Yi Gwal was murdered by his bodyguard.

King Injo was king during both the first and second Manchu invasions, which ended with the surrender of Joseon to the Qing Dynasty in 1636.






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