Sunday, September 14, 2014

Film Review: Blade of the Phantom Master (2004)

Blade of the Phantom Master: Shin Angyo Onshi (2004)
Japan/2004
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...issues mostly attributed to the criminally short runtime, but it is fun and exciting."

Munsu, the last of the remaining amheng osa – police-like government agents who travel the world in disguise and right wrongs – travels the crumbled land of Jushin.

Blade of the Phantom Master drops you right into the middle of Munsu's current task. He eventually takes up a task to free a woman named Chun Hyang from a tyrannical King, as well as the people who are constantly tormented by said King. Munsu then reluctantly teams up with Sando and ends up on a new adventure as he travels to an island with a terrible secret. This plot is the bulk of the film. And, fortunately, it's interesting and engaging. The climax has an excellent action sequence, and the ending is great; I would love to watch a sequel of this promising film.

The biggest issue for Blade of the Phantom Master is the short runtime. The film is practically 1 hour and 20 minutes long, without credits, and it squeezes in two distinct-yet-related plots. Munsu's character, who is really more like an antihero than a hero, is interesting; sure, he's arrogant, rude, and self-preserving, but he has a certain charm that makes him an interesting antihero. Unfortunately, we don't really get to spend much time with the character – we really only see the surface. Sando is more of the same – a distinct and even awesome idea of a character, but not much more than an idea. There's a cute little bat in the film that I thought would end up being a character, but serves no purpose, a missed opportunity.

Aside from the character issues, though, I liked most of Blade of the Phantom Master. Both plots, despite not being fully developed or explored, are interesting and entertaining. The action sequences also great; shootouts, explosions, sword fights... it's really versatile and exciting when it comes to action – it's also very gory. The different challenges Munsu faces, which I suppose we can simply call enemies, are also very interesting and even cool. This echos the same problem as the main characters, though: they simply aren't developed enough, we don't get to see enough of them. There are fights with desert man-eaters, giants, zombies, and other skilled swordsmen, all of which I would love to see more of.

As usual, the Japanese voice acting is great; although somewhat clich̩, we get some very genuine and impressive voice work from the Japanese cast. The music is also good; I expected something a little more unique, though, considering the distinct setting. The art is also good; not my favorite art style, but far from terrible. The Netflix Instant stream features both Japanese and English voice overs, and English subtitles; for some odd reason, this version does not translate the introduction monologue, which gives vital information РI had to rewind the film and watch the title sequence again in English to get that information, then switch back to Japanese, which made the experience somewhat frustrating at first. Director Joji Shimura does well in creating a consistent and well-paced anime film, but the runtime is too short; the story and the characters feel overwhelmingly compressed.

Overall, I enjoyed Blade of the Phantom Master: Shin Angyo Onshi. It has some story and character issues mostly attributed to the criminally short runtime, but it is fun and exciting. It's not something
you'll lose sleep over if you miss it, but it is something worth watching, especially if you're a fan of anime and have a United States Netflix account to stream it on.

Score:6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore.

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