Musa The Warrior (Korea 2001)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/10/06
Cast: Jung Woo-Sung, Joo Jin-Mo, Ann Sung-Gi, Zhang Ziyi, Yu Rong Guang

An epic tale of honor, chivalry, and heroism, and we all know what that leads to - violence and bloodshed. China is in chaos with the Mings fighting the Mongols, and Korea sends in a peace delegation to try and smooth things out between the warring factions. Unfortunately, misunderstandings lead to arguments and our band of diplomats is exiled to the desert by the Mings. As fate would have it, they're rescued by the Mongols, who have a kidnapped Chinese princess in their custody (stunning Zhang Ziyi). Having fallen for the princess, General Choi (Joo Jin-Mo) decides to liberate her and safely escort her back to Nanjing, invoking the endless wrath of Mongolian General Rambulhua (superb Yu Rong Guang). Against all hope, a handful of Korean soldiers make their final stand at an abandoned fortress to protect the princess.

First and foremost, "Musa" is a first rate production and an absolutely gorgeous film. The subtle palette of reds and golds nicely complements the dry and barren desert setting, and the locations are stunning in their scope and desolation. The acting is very good and all of the characters are human, flawed, and endearing. The alpha male rivalry between Choi and slave Yeosol (brilliant Jung Woo-Sung) is fierce and brooding, and when they're not fighting they spend their time striking aggressive poses and letting the wind blow through their immaculate hair. Chinese beauty Zhang Ziyi graces any film that she's in, although she doesn't have much to do in this one other than be conceited royalty. However, it's the restrained performances of veterans Ann Sung-Gi and Yu Rong Guang that give the film its depth and dramatic punch. They're both outstanding leaders and tacticians, but heavily burdened by the horrors they've witnessed. They've seen too many of their brothers die, but are honor bound to continue fighting. The action scenes are exciting and well staged, but the editing is a bit more choppy and frenetic than I prefer. The execution leans more towards gritty realism than flashy swordplay, and the film features some very impressive (and bloody) arrow stunts. If there's anything negative to say about the film, it would be that it's overly melodramatic and the pacing could be tightened up a bit. Overall, an excellent film for anyone who enjoys historical epics, heroic bloodshed, and beautiful cinematography.