Duelist (2005 film)

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Duelist film poster.jpg
Korean poster
Revised RomanizationHyeongsa
Directed byLee Myung-se
Produced byLee Myung-se
Yoo Jeong-hee
Written byLee Myung-se
Lee Hae-kyeong
Based onDamo Namsoon
by Bang Hak-gi
StarringHa Ji-won
Gang Dong-won
Music byJo Seong-woo
CinematographyHwang Ki-seok
Edited byKo Im-pyo
Production M
Distributed byKorea Pictures
Release date
  • September 8, 2005 (2005-09-08)[1]
Running time
111 minutes
CountrySouth Korea
Box officeUS$6.3 million[2]

Duelist (Hangul형사; RRHyeongsa; lit. "Detective") is a 2005 South Korean martial arts film directed by Lee Myung-se.[3][4][5]


The film opens with a fish tale narrated by a low-class metalsmith in a tavern in Joseon-era south-western Korea. The scene then cuts to a street circus, in which an elegant masked swordmaster (Gang Dong-won) fascinates his market-place audience. Undercover detective Ahn (Ahn Sung-ki), and his protégé Namsoon (Ha Ji-won) are tracking down suspected money-counterfeiter gang, when the masked swordmaster ends his show by killing a government official who carries the kingdom's currency metal cast.

The swordmaster escapes when a cart crashes and disgorges a mountain of counterfeit coins, causing public commotion. The distraction is a success, but Namsoon chased and dueled with the escaping swordmaster/duelist, proving herself a master of martial arts specializing in a pair of long knives. She succeeded in cutting a quarter of his mask and glanced at his revealed eye before he escaped. She and her team are left with bodies of the counterfeiting gang, seemingly massacred in an instant by an unknown duelist.

It is then revealed that counterfeit coins are spreading wildly among the populace, causing hyperinflation that threatens the monarchy. The police forces are determined to find and arrest the counterfeiters, believed to include an insider in the government. From a secret connection, the detectives obtain a picture of the duelist, noted for his "Sad Eyes", which Namsoon recognizes from her previous encounter. Their suspicion points to Song, the powerful defense minister. This suspicion is confirmed when Namsoon spots the duelist entering Song's manor.

Namsoon and Ahn failed to chase the duelist. However, as Namsoon is walking alone in the night, Sad Eyes appeared from the shadows, asking if she is following him "because you like me?" Namsoon attacks, entering a duel that starts to become affectionate. Eventually, he vanishes after making a small cut on her clothing, revealing her cleavage. The resolute Namsoon persuaded her team to infiltrate minister Song's palace. This plan is implemented, resulting with only Namsoon succeeding in her thinly-disguised appearance as a lady of pleasure. Coincidentally, she ends up having to serve the duelist in private, which she handles very tactlessly.

Song called the duelist, interrupting Namsoon's session with her. Song turns out to be a superb swordsman, the only person who can outperform the duelist. Their conversation reveals that Song plans to overthrow the reigning young king and replace him with his future son-in-law, and that the duelist has been involved in this plan since childhood. Song reminds Sad Eyes that the duelist can kill him anytime he distrusts him, hinting that the duelist might be the planned royal successor. Song says that he always loved the duelist like a son.

After assaulting Sad Eyes in public, Namsoon is dismissed from the case by her director, only to be secretly assigned to find the final evidence to prove Song's involvement. Overhearing Namsoon's objectives, the duelist gave the needed evidence in a secret meeting with her, thereby sacrificing his destiny. Namsoon realizes her feelings for Sad Eyes. The father-figure Ahn recognizes this, advising her to forgo her feelings since he is a criminal while she is with the police. The movie draws towards a climax as scores of armed police surround Song's manor and attack the duelist and Song, as well as the other corrupt officials. In their last conversation, the minister tried to speak the nameless duelist's true name, but the police separate them and detective Ahn kills the minister.

After the battle, Namsoon anxiously searches for the duelist's fate, only to be told by Ahn that "he is dead". Devastated, she returns to the lanes where she had encountered the duelist, haunted by his images. While she is walking back, the duelist appears once more in front of her. Namsoon feels that finally she can express her feelings, and in a denouement the couple dances in a picturesque combat under the moonlight. They were fighting "like they were making love", but then "disappeared suddenly", as narrated by the metalsmith in the tavern from the first scene.

The final scene shows Namsoon and Sad Eyes spotting each other from a distance in the marketplace.


  • Ha Ji-won as Detective Namsoon[6]
  • Gang Dong-won as Sad Eyes
  • Ahn Sung-ki as Detective Ahn
  • Song Young-chang as Minister Song Pil-joon
  • Yoon Joo-sang as Bong-chool
  • Do Yong-goo
  • Shim Cheol-jong
  • Bae Joong-sik as Detective Bae
  • Hwang Eui-doo as Detective Hwang
  • Jang In-bo as Detective Jang


Although set in a historical era, the movie uses a very modern style of storytelling. Although the film is rich in historic details, it contains many intentional historical inaccuracies as well as modern cultural elements.

The movie is nevertheless impressionistic, with extensive use of slow motion, freeze frames, multiple images, and varying perspectives. The film is shot in brilliant, saturated hues, with strong reds perhaps predominating. Black, white, blue and a smaller amount of yellow are all present in concentrated form. The scenes are cut, often abruptly, and multiple shots are often used in the same screen.

The movie uses mainly modern Western music with Korean elements. The opening scene uses a theme from the generic circus music Entrance of the Gladiators. The romantic leitmotif is played with piano, accordion, and violin during the middle scenes and electric guitar in the denouement. A version of Dies Irae is used. Even the undercover scene use a modern tango, drummings, and psychedelic rock typical of action/detective movies in modern urban setting.

Although the movie is about a duelist, its sword-fight scenes are highly stylized and choreographed more as dance than conflict. Little blood is shown in spite of the obvious killings in some scenes. There are long stretches in the movie where there is no talking—only action, suspense, dance, or humor. Sometimes the characters' lines of thoughts are spoken while they are not speaking. Much of the movie involves the duelist and the female protagonist in stylized combat, evocative of violent mating rituals of some animals. At times, they come within inches of a kiss, but it seems their lips never touch.

The story also shows some element of polarity. Both sides have a father-figure and a protégé, all of which are masters of martial arts. Detective Ahn and Namsoon continuously exhibit silly, uncultivated behaviours, while minister Song and duelist Sad Eyes are sophisticated aristocrats. Namsoon's interactions with Ahn are comical and crude, while Sad Eyes and Song speak in a very refined language, often communicating without speaking. The lovers also show contrast, with Namsoon being boisterous and overacting, while Sad Eyes is very somber and silent.

While the movie is a love story involving an outlaw and a woman on the side of the police, humor is continually brought in. Namsoon's encounters with Sad Eyes proved her to be just about his match in combat, but not in matters of love. The duelist is always cool and calm, whereas her love for him, abetted by her raucous character, makes her a mouse that his cat-like character and moves can toy with. Thus, even the police's plan for her to go undercover in the minister's palace go humorously awry, as she literally tumbles for him.

Awards and nominations[edit]

2005 Blue Dragon Film Awards[7]

  • Best Art Direction: Cho Geun-hyun, Lee Hyeong-ju
  • Best Lighting: Shin Kyung-man
  • Popular Star Award: Ha Ji-won, Gang Dong-won
  • Nomination - Best Supporting Actor: Ahn Sung-ki
  • Nomination - Best Cinematography: Hwang Ki-seok
  • Nomination - Technical Award: Jang Seong-ho (CG)

2005 Korean Film Awards

  • Nomination - Best Cinematography: Hwang Ki-seok
  • Nomination - Best Art Direction: Cho Geun-hyun, Lee Hyeong-ju
  • Nomination - Best Visual Effects: Jang Seong-ho
  • Nomination - Best Sound: Park Jun-oh

2006 Baeksang Arts Awards

2006 Grand Bell Awards

  • Best Art Direction: Cho Geun-hyun, Lee Hyeong-ju
  • Nomination - Best Supporting Actor: Ahn Sung-ki
  • Nomination - Best Cinematography: Hwang Ki-seok
  • Nomination - Best Editing: Ko Im-pyo
  • Nomination - Best Lighting: Shin Kyung-man
  • Nomination - Best Costume Design: Jung Kyung-hee
  • Nomination - Best Visual Effects: MoFac Studio


  1. ^ Box-Office Results (2005), Koreanfilm.org. Retrieved on 2008-02-19.
  2. ^ "Hyeongsa (Duelist) (2005)" Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
  3. ^ "'형사' ('Duelist') Press Screening Report". Twitch Film. 5 September 2005. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
  4. ^ "K-FILM REVIEWS: 형사 Duelist (Part 1)". Twitch Film. 17 February 2006. Archived from the original on 2013-12-19. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
  5. ^ "K-FILM REVIEWS: 형사 Duelist (Part 2)". Twitch Film. 17 February 2006. Archived from the original on 2014-12-16. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
  6. ^ "Ha Ji-Won Presents '형사' ('Duelist'), the Action Melodrama". Twitch Film. 30 August 2005. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
  7. ^ "Duelist - Awards". Cinemasie. Retrieved 2015-08-22.

External links[edit]