Romantic Warriors (2003)
Since Hong Kong has pretty much given up making martial arts and wu xia films, the rest of Asia has gradually started to fill the cinematic vaccuum left behind. It seems that Korea is most likely to take the crown, with films like Bichunmoo, VOLCANO HIGH and My Wife Is A Gangster all featuring some great Hong Kong style action with the superior production values that typify modern Korean cinema.
ROMANTIC WARRIORS is another film that takes inspiration from Hong Kong wu xia films (notably A Chinese Ghost Story), but it is an uneasy mix of spoof and homage that doesn't quite work as either as a result. Coming from the director of Sex Is Zero and My Boss, My Hero it is no surprise that the humour in the film is a little juvenile, but it doesn't transplant into the wu xia setting as well as the gangster and college settings of those previous films.
The plot roughly concerns a group of five female ghosts that were all killed by a Chinese warrior hanging out in Korea, who recruit a group of Korean assassins to take revenge for them. These are the "romantic warriors" of the title, but the film makes it clear early on that it plans to debunk or lambast the "romantic warrior" image that inspired countless Hong Kong movies. These guys are just clueless idiots, and their best martial arts technique involves pulling faces and doing a stupid dance in the hope that the enemy will let his guard down from laughter or embarrassment for long enough for them to strike.
The film is a little reminiscent of Volcano High in the way it interjects screwball humour, and I found it similarly out of place here. It's even less amusing though, and doesn't create any likeable characters. The female ghosts are really bitchy and immature, whilst the assassins are just embarrassing dorks. The Chinese warriors are actually much more likeable in many ways, even though they're portrayed as bad guys they're at least sincere about it. To top it all, the ghosts aren't even very pretty
The film feels like it is heavily cut - a lot of scenes play out very briefly and transition abruptly, and the plot hangs together pretty loosely. Character development is almost nil. I checked out the second disc to see if there were a ton of deleted scenes on there, but there aren't so I guess it was just poorly scripted and thought out.
The film is, however, beautiful to look at. Costumes, sets and cinematography are all of a very high standard. Some scenes are really superb, such as the one where the ghosts demonstrate the "supernatural swordsmanship".
Overall, ROMANTIC WARRIORS is a great "might have been" film. There's bits in there that are excellent, but they're outweighed by the bids that are just bad. Still, I'm glad that Korea is still showing interested in picking up the Martial Arts genre that Hong Kong has left vacant, and hopefully they'll get better at it with time. For now though, you'd be better off with any of Stephen Chiau's wu xia/period films than RW. Maybe worth a rental, but probably not a purchase.