In 57 B.C., the demonic Auta and his tribe are vanquished by troops from the kingdom of Shilla, with the aid of a sacred sword. As long as the sword remains where it has been planted by the Shilla king, Auta will be unable to return to the land of the living. The story resumes in 896 A.D., as Shilla is in the throes of upheaval, with the Queen (Kim Hye-ri) relying on celebrated warrior General Biharang (Jeong Jun-ho) to keep rebel forces in check. However, there is also a significant threat brewing from within, posed by the chief of the royal guards and one of the queen’s ministers. Seeking to undermine her power, they decide to murder Biharang’s intended, the lovely commoner Jaunbie (Kim Hyo-jin), using the excuse that she is the daughter of a notorious rebel and, thus, cannot be trusted. While fleeing her would-be assassins, Jaunbie happens upon the ancient sword (now all-but forgotten after nearly 1000 years) and pulls it out of the ground, in order to defend herself. Cornered at the edge of a cliff, she leaps into a nearby lake. The now-revived Auta quickly possesses the girl, using her body and his magic to terrorize the countryside. Only a brief interval remains before Auta will regain his full strength and be invincible, necessitating that Jaunbie must be destroyed. However, Biharang is convinced that his love’s spirit still exists within her body and refuses to allow anyone to destroy the girl.
It is no coincidence that this South Korean film (a remake of a 1969 production) possesses a distinctly Chinese feel, from its high-flying fantasy wirework (choreographed by HK veteran Yuen Tak) to its stately locations (actually Mainland China). Although the cast is not especially large, the scope and grandeur of the production is often impressive, as are many of the CGI FX. Director Lee Kwang-hoon (GHOST IN LOVE) clearly strived for the look and feel of an epic, but the film’s comparatively short 91 minute running time undercuts its effectiveness. The unshakeable love that developed between the general and the peasant girl is depicted almost solely via a brief flashback and, while the leads are competent, the viewer is not convinced that Biharang would risk millions of lives on the gamble that he can save one. Meanwhile, a secondary storyline about the unrequited love the queen has for Biharang is so underdeveloped as to seem superfluous. The villains are an equally sketchy lot, with little more than the lure of power to account for their actions and sentiments. There is still much to be said in the project’s favor (the photography and fantasy components alone are noteworthy enough on their own to warrant a recommendation) and those who enjoyed the HK period spectaculars of the early ‘90s will find this to be an entertaining surrogate. Unfortunately, just as this genre has fallen out of favor with HK audiences, THE LEGEND OF THE EVIL LAKE’s disappointing returns on the home front suggest that South Korean moviegoers are not embracing it at the moment either.