A Demon Slayer is drugged and when he wakes up finds himself in a mid world between Heaven and Earth. Lucky for him, he is still alive. Unlucky for him, there are a lot of freaking demons there to fight.
The Restless is one of those movies that wants to be a deep, philosophical look at life through the makings of a martial arts epic. What it ends up being is a somewhat jumbled mishmash of ideas surrounded by a hugely enjoyable martial arts/fantasy hybrid.
Yi Gwak is a Demon Slayer. When the movie begins we are told there has been a demon uprising and the entire world is in chaos. The only way many people believe they can survive the attacks is to sacrifice their own. At the offset of the movie a young girl is left as sacrifice and three demons arrive to take her. Unfortunately for the demons, it is a trap and Yi Gwak is waiting in the shadows. He uses his Jajak Sword, a mystical weapon which is all powerful, to vanquish the demons and save the town.
In a double cross, the townspeople drug Yi Gwak in order to cash in a bounty that was placed on his head. Yi Gwak was a member of empire’s elite Demon Slayers, second in command to his master Ban-Chu. Because Ban-Chu’s pregnant wife was raped by elected officials, who were never brought to justice, Bang-Chu planned a coup of the government. Yi Gwak refused to accompany the Slayers on the night of the attack and as a result became the sole survivor of the group, as all the Slayers were massacred by soldiers during their siege.
Yi Gwak escapes the townspeople who drugged him and passes out in a small house in the woods. When he awakens he finds himself in an elaborate locale, which he soon learns is Midheaven, a place between Heaven and Earth where the dead arrive to serve 49 days of charity before being reincarnated on Earth. The problem is he is not dead and finds himself the only living being in Midheaven. He also finds himself in the middle of a giant battle between a group of demons and the White Reapers, a group assigned to protect the land. One of the White Reapers happens to be his former love Yon-Hwa, who was killed as he watched helplessly years before. She is now known as So-hwa and has no memories of him. White Reapers are stripped of their memories when they are assigned so as not to cloud their judgments with thoughts of love and loss.
Things get even more complicated when Yi Gwak discovers the persons responsible for the demon attacks on Midheaven are his former allies, the Demon Slayers. Seeking vengeance against an unfair world, and the dangers of love, Ban-Chu has planned an elaborate plan which will destroy existence as we know it and force everything to start over. The only person standing in the way is Yi Gwak who finds the love in his heart for Yon-Hwa is too strong to ignore.
The story is a mix of philosophies and mythologies and seems ridiculous when you think about it for too long. What makes the movie so enjoyable is not following the plotline. To truly enjoy this movie is to understand the base levels of what you are seeing. The action is very similar to other, better movies such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Hero. However you can’t discount the immense fun while watching the hero leap into action, with his magical sword, slashing and hacking demons into charred flakes. At my gut level, kung fu action pitting man against monster is pure nirvana.
The set design is magnificent. It has been done many times before throughout Asian cinema, but looking at the buildings and the surroundings in this movie is beauty to the eye. The architecture is magnificent and the color palette is beautiful. The action scenes are well choreographed and there is a sequence at the end where Yi Gwak battles an unending army of demons that is just jaw dropping.
The acting is hit and miss. Woo-sung Jung is solid in his portrayal of the mythical hero. There are moments where he is introspective that fall short, but when he is in battle he is a natural. I can’t say the same for Tae-hee Kim. She is given the task of playing the love interest, while maintaining the role of a White Reaper who is supposed to show no emotions. When she does show emotions it always looks fake and the rest of the time she sits there with her big doe eyes looking constipated. The supporting actors carry their weight with Jun-ho Heo solid in his role as Ban-Chu. So-Yi Hyun and Yoo Ha Joon are also standouts as two of the former Demon Slayers.
Another problem I have with the movie is the ridiculous score. It is overly melodramatic and just destroys some of the more emotional moments in the film. It seems like something you would hear on TV or in a Hallmark presentation. It is completely out of place and is one of the worst designed music scores I think I have ever heard.
However, forget the disjointed plot and the bad music score. The reason to watch this movie is to see some kick ass martial arts action with demons and magic. When you watch it for the simple visceral pleasures of the fight scenes and the wondrous sets it works brilliantly. The movie left me with a big smile on my face from start to finish and not many movies do that for me anymore.
The first feature on the DVD is The Making of The Restless. We see that the director is quite young and was using this over-the-top idea as a way to make a movie with a lot of CGI as a calling card for himself. At almost an hour, we get a comprehensive look at just about everything involved in the making of this movie. There is also two shorter featurettes rounding out the extras. Reincarnation in 49 Days (12:23) explains the origins of the story comes from a Chinese ghost story about a wrongly accused warrior who falls asleep in an abandoned house and wakes up in the land of ghosts. Dong-oh Jo took this idea and added the 49th day ceremony from Buddhism to create his story. The second featurette is over the production design (12:23). The post production on the movie took three years to complete and the director of photography said he considers them the pioneers for CGI cinema in Korea.