Generic Korean

The Duelist- Movie Interpretation

Posted on: August 25, 2011

The 2005 film “The Duelist” stars Ha Ji Won as “Namsoon” and Kang Dong Won as “Sad Eyes.”  A review of the movie can be found here:  Koreanfilm.org and Wiki.

Namsoon is one half of a detective duo.  She’s the hot blooded, loud tomboy whose knife skills come in handy as she tends to fight first, ask questions later.  Her partner is “Ahn”, an older gentleman who raised Namsoon to be the wildcat she is.  The two are trying to shut down a counterfeiting operation but they soon find out that things aren’t what they appear to be.   Sad Eyes is the #1 henchman for a high ranking official named Song.  The counterfeiting is a cover for a more nefarious plan to overthrow the king.

Unlike Namsoon, Sad Eyes is the epitome of restraint and calm and while you might think this is a political thriller or a martial arts flick, its actually a tragic love story.  Namsoon and Sad Eyes fall in love with each other immediately but the two are both fiercely loyal to their jobs and well, it doesn’t end well.  You can insert your own star crossed lovers comment here.

In the beginning, the two fight each other under the moonlight and tango music begins to play alerting the viewers that they’re not fighting, they’re flirting.  Sad Eyes eventually gets the upper hand and ends up revealing Namsoon’s chest.  Suddenly you see Namsoon revert into a shy little girl grappling to hide her embarrassment while Sad Eyes retreats to the red light district to uh, finish what he started.

Throughout the movie, the two become closer and closer but Sad Eyes ends up ambushing her and her team of cops, killing several men in the process.  Namsoon is hurt by his betrayal and goes screaming after him into the red light district.  She throws alcohol in his face and starts a fight with him.  Sad Eyes tries to restrain himself but he ends up losing control and the two scatter the locals as they face off with each other.  Namsoon quietly begs him to say that it wasn’t him but the two know better.

Eventually the two part ways.  Namsoon is assigned to find incriminating evidence against Song.  Sad Eyes, who was raised by the Official betrays him and gives Namsoon the evidence that she needs.  He knows that in doing this, it seals both his and his father’s fate.

A swarm of officers raids Song’s house.  Sad Eyes and Song are cornered and Song realizes that he was betrayed.  While the Song accepts the betrayal, he tries to remember what Sad Eye’s real name is and before we get to hear the answer, the two are separated and we see Ahn kill Song.

Now this is where the interpretation begins.  Namsoon is told that Sad Eyes is dead and as she tries to find him, Ahn restrains her and we never really find out if Sad Eyes is dead or alive.  Some time later, Namsoon is walking when she meets Sad Eyes and the two fight under the moonlight as if they were making love and the two eventually disappear.

So is Sad Eyes dead or alive.  My interpretation is that the dude was dead.  In the movie, there are splashes of red to signify death.  Sad Eyes wears a black robe throughout the movie but in their last dance together, he’s wearing red.  Which I assume means he’s dead.

The entire movie is a story inside a story.  In the beginning of the film, a old pervy man tells this story and at the end, we cut to him finishing it.  Just like all oral stories, each time you tell a tale, it becomes more and more elaborate, facts added, additional epilogues granted, etc.  As the camera pans out we see Sad Eyes walking along the marketplace with Namsoon and Ahn hot on his tail.  I just assumed that this scene represented the oral story idea and not a continuation of the narrative.

Man, I never understood the Kang Dong Won love until this movie.  I seriously fell in love with his character.  I love that brooding bad boy type.  Rwar.

2 Responses to "The Duelist- Movie Interpretation"

your last paragraph…. i totally agree. I’ve watched Kang Dong Won in all his other roles, but none of them come close to the heart racing feeling I got when I watched him in Duelist!

After so many years and time and countless hours, my heart still racing when watching that movie… always like the first time. Imagine that.

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