I need to go lie down for a while.
Gwak Yi (Jung Woo-Sung, Musa the Warrior), a wandering warrior, rids a village of some sinister demons. The villagers offer him a hearty meal as a reward, only to reveal they’ve poisoned it to collect a bounty on Gwak Yi’s head. Gwak Yi wakes up in the afterlife, specifically in “Mideheaven,” a holding area where souls wait 49 days to return to Earth for reincarnation. Only, Gwak Yi isn’t technically dead. This draws the attention of local deity So-Hwa (Kim Tae-hee), who eventually involves Gwak Yi in a battle between her people and more demons. The demons have a sinister plan to conquer both Midheaven and Earth, but, unfortunately for them, Gwak Yi and his awesome fighting skills stand in their way.
At least, I think that’s what happens.
Honestly, I couldn’t follow anything going on this movie. It has tons of style, special effects and martial arts action, and that’s all good, but who can make any sense of this crazy story? Everyone in Midheaven stands around in lines apparently waiting to be catalogued. There are special baths the characters have to take for some reason. It’s never explained just what So-Hwa’s position or importance in Midheaven is. Who are the demons? Do they want anything other than to “rule?” Don’t even get me started on the scrolls or the magic sword or the portals or any other random stuff.
At this point, you might scream at me, telling me to pay more attention, or reminding me that it’s a foreign film. But this is beyond the usual hard-to-follow movie. I’m the guy people turn to when they can’t figure out Eraserhead (the whole middle part of the movie takes place in Henry’s imagination). I’m the one who always has to explain why the little kid in Iron Monkey is so important (he grows up to be folk hero Wong Fei-Hung). But The Restless, is not about being dense or esoteric, it’s that the narrative is so clunky and disjointed, and the “world” of the film so poorly-defined, that there’s just no following what’s happening.
A better comparison would be with David Lynch’s Dune. It’s an amazing-looking movie, taking place in an exotic fantasy world with a lot of eye-popping visuals. But the story ended up just too big for a two-hour film, and a lot of the details of how this world worked and the intricacies of the plot were lost on viewers. I felt the same way watching The Restless. It’s beautiful and otherworldly, but what good does all the eye candy do when you don’t know why it’s relevant to the plot?
If for some reason you’re interested in The Restless strictly for the visuals and the effects, you might find more to enjoy than I did. The cinematography truly is gorgeous, making nearly every shot an eye-popper. The fight choreography is also top notch, in the high-flying wuxia style. Especially notable is how those in Midheaven die, by bursting into fire and ash in an excellent effect. But, then, I wonder how all these demons and warriors can “die” while in the afterlife, and then I’m back to being frustrated with the lack of context in the script.
The widescreen picture and 5.1 sound make for an excellent presentation on DVD. The three behind-the-scenes featurettes reveal how much hard work and enthusiasm went into this project, which gives me a guilt trip about saying so many mean things about it.
I just can’t recommend this one on cool visuals alone. Not when I walked away this frustrated with the story.