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FILM REVIEW: ‘Iron Mask’: A tale of kendo and emotional turmoil

(ANN/THE KOREAN HERALD) – “Iron Mask,” titled “One-Ten-Thousandth of a Second” in Korean, delves into the story of Kim Jae-woo (Joo Jong-hyuk), who aspires to make it to the national kendo team via a rigorous boot camp.

The film revolves around Kim’s fateful encounter with Tae-su (Moon Jin-seung), who had tragically taken the life of Jae-woo’s elder brother during their youth. The Korean title of the movie signifies how victory in this competition is decided within an incredibly brief time frame, a theme that resonates throughout the film’s 100-minute duration.

Despite his relentless efforts, Jae-woo clinches second place in the competition, failing to thwart his rival’s assault within the decisive millisecond. The weight of Jae-woo’s inner turmoil, particularly his confrontations with the seemingly invincible Tae-su, contributes to his defeats. Curiously, Tae-su remains oblivious to Jae-woo’s connection to his past victim.

A scene from the movie “Iron Mask”. PHOTO: The Coup Distribution via ANN/KOREAN HERALD

The film achieves a gripping emotional narrative by immersing the characters in a kendo training environment. Dialogue takes a back seat as the film accentuates kendo competition sequences, intense close-ups of kendo mask-clad faces, the unwavering shouts of focus, the resonating clash of kendo swords, and the stark contrast between dark navy and white kendo uniforms against the muted wooden floors.

A complex blend of emotions including anger, thoughts of vengeance, bitterness, and a nagging sense of inferiority is artfully conveyed through Jae-woo’s often fumbling grasp of the kendo sword, preventing him from assessing his competition with a composed demeanor.

One of the most striking aspects of the film is its minimal use of dialogue compared to typical sports films, which may challenge viewers to stay engaged should their concentration waver. The culmination of Jae-woo’s emotional journey unfolds gradually, leading to a conclusion that may appear subdued to some.

Director Kim Sung-hwan shed light on his unique approach to storytelling through visuals rather than extensive dialogue. He revealed, “I heard that this film contains only around 800 lines, compared to the 2,000 lines in an average film. I aimed to portray the turbulent emotional development through kendo matches.”

The film “Iron Mask” received two awards at the 27th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and is scheduled to premiere in South Korean cinemas on November 15th.

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