On the face of it (looking at the DVD cover and trailer) Demon Empire looks to be an interesting fusion of horror and far east action. For instance, the ‘demon ninjas’ on the cover. Who wouldn’t want to watch a film with demon ninjas in?!
Yi Gwak is a roaming swordsman for hire. You know the type, dark, mysterious, drinks too much, has a painful past… That sort of thing. His speciality is killing demons with his enchanted (and rather branch-like) sword, a special blade which he was entrusted with when he was part of a small army known as the demon slayers, or Chuh-yong-dae.
After a job goes wrong with a double-crossing client, Yi Gwak seeks refuge in a remote building and somehow ends up leaving the earth plane and ending up in mid-heaven. Mid-heaven is the halfway house for spirits, where they wait for reincarnation, but curiously Yi Gwak isn’t dead which causes some confusion. But before anyone can figure out what’s going on, a battle begins between some good, angel-like spirits and some nasty demons. At this point, Yi Gwak ends up face to face with his long lost (and dearly departed) love, So Hwa, who is now basically a big ghost fairy and has no recollection of her life on earth with him.
Phew. And all this within the first 10 minutes.
From then on, it’s a battle between good and evil with the demons wanting to get to earth and start a, well, Demon Empire I guess, and Yi Gwak and his former wife trying to stop them. Swords are the preferred weapon of choice, although the head demons have cool chains with hooks that fly everywhere. So Hwa is also pretty deadly with rose petals (you’d be surprised).
So, Demon Empire is your typical asian epic movie, which is light on the horror (contrary to the cover/trailer) but pretty satisfying as far as cool swordplay and fly-by-wire effects.
Being an epic, there is a fair amount of emotion too, which can get a bit tiresome. There’s lots of staring at the camera with tears in the eyes, and plenty of post battle collapsing and embracing. Yes, staying in the air for a full minute whilst exchanging blows with a bad guy is tiring, but sometimes you get the feeling that Yi Gwak is just doing it for more sneaky cuddles from the unassuming angel/fairy/former wife.
It does all tie in with the story of course, but if they could cut down on the loving, there would be more time for demon ninjas!
Demon Empire is constructed by some of the minds behind The House of Flying Daggers and Hero, so it’s understandably well shot and at times beautifully mesmerising. The way in which the demons and spirits evaporate when killed is particularly cool – they blacken like embers and flake apart, floating away like pretty leaves. Ahhh.
If you like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and its kin, then you’re bound to enjoy this too, as long as you’re willing to wait out the slushy stuff for the action.
Not scary but exciting in a predictable sort of way.