[MOVIE REVIEW]Without a Fighting Chance
"I'd like to rewrite Korean movie history," said the director Kim Sung-su before going to China to shoot his ambitious project, "Musa" ("The Warrior"). After he first came up with the idea of exiled warriors from the Koryo Dynasty wandering across China in the late 14th century, Kim needed five years, $7 million, 10,000 kilometers of travel across China and a staff of 300 to bring this story to the screen.
"The Warrior" indeed smells like an epic: the extra-wide Cinemascope makes the panoramic desert scenes all the more spectacular; the gory, bone-crunching battle sequences; not to mention the posterior-numbing 160-minute running time (down from a first cut of 4.5 hours).
The movie stars some big names in Korean cinema. Jung Woo-sung ("Beat") costars as the slave warrior Yohsol, and Joo Jin-mo ("Happy End") as the inexperienced general Choi Jung. Unfortunately, these stars are better known for their looks than for their acting. Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") also stars as a Ming princess, and while she is as pretty as ever, she is given precious little to do.
In the late 14th century, as Ming and Yuan struggle for control of China, General Choi Jung of the Koryo Dynasty (modern-day Korea) is leading a delegation to Ming China. But on the way the party is accused of spying and exiled to the northern deserts. In a clash between Yuan and Ming forces, the Koryo party makes a getaway, and the general decides to head back to their homeland.
It is a long, difficult journey across barren desert, and on their way, they run across a group of Yuan soldiers who have taken a Ming princess hostage. General Choi thinks if they save the princess, it will restore the group's honor. He is also smitten by the princess, but unfortunately she falls for the slave Yohsol.
Overall, this film does not measure up to the director's acknowledged inspirations, Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" and Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch." Kim explains too much too explicitly, and the Braveheart-esque battle sequences are as excessive as they are indistinguishable. In addition, the love triangle among the general, the slave and the princess only weakens the plot.
Perhaps too much of the story was lost when they cut it down from 4.5 hours. You might have your chance to find out in a few months, when according to rumor the uncut movie will be turned into a mini-series for Korean television.