Musa – The Warrior (무사) – ★★★☆☆

Musa - The Warrior (무사)

Musa – The Warrior (무사)

In the year 1375 AD, the Ming Empire has forced the Yuan dynasty north of the Great Wall in what is now known as China. The warring has heightened tension throughout the region with suspicion and threats around every corner. The kingdom of Goryeo (ancient Korea) is also at odds with Ming following the assassination of King Gong-min as well as emissaries from the Empire. In an attempt to reestablish peace between them, Goryeo sends a special envoy to Ming, yet upon arrival they are accused as spies and sent into exile. As the emissaries traverse the scorching desert, their caravan is attacked by Mongolian warriors, who free the Goryeo delegates and leave them to their fate. Taking command, Royal Guard General Choi Jung (Joo Jin-mo (주진모) leads the party, as well as a band of conscripts headed by Jin-lib (Ahn Sung-gi (안성기), out of the wasteland with the intention of journeying back home. However upon arriving at a frontier outpost the General notices that a band of Mongols have abducted a Ming princess (Zhang Ziyi), while a personal conflict reveals a former Goryeo slave named Yeo-sol’s (Jung Woo-sung (정우성) phenomenal fighting prowess. The General decides that the only way back home is fight alongside the rag-tag group of warriors and rescue the princess to restore the relationship between the two nations, yet completing the task will be far easier said than done.

Suspected as spies, the Goryeo delegation is sent into exile yet fate has other plans

Suspected as spies, the Goryeo delegation is sent into exile yet fate has other plans

Shot entirely on location in China, director Kim Sung-su’s historical epic Musa – The Warrior was the most expensive Korean production at the time of inception. Featuring an all-star cast from the peninsula as well as Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, who at the time was a hot property following her turn in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Musa generated an enormous amount of hype prior to release which translated into invitations to a score of international film festivals, yet something of a lukewarm reception during its box office run at home.

Musa is perhaps best described as a wuxia western and as such stands out as a unique entity in Korean cinema. The large budget has been effectively applied onscreen with the stunning cinematography consistently captivating, particularly when filming the great number and range of landscapes involved, which capture the inherent dangers of traversing the Chinese wilderness during the era. Yet on a smaller scale the acute attention to detail is also impressive, with the costumes of each protagonist meticulously precise and adding a keen sense of authenticity to the proceedings.

Such credibility is also extended through the action sequences. While a far cry from the elegance of other martial arts epics, Musa is effective in portraying a more realistic depiction of conflict by revealing the sheer brutality of war and murder through some particularly bloodthirsty moments, scenes which are certain to please fans of the genre and are certainly not for the squeamish.

Former slave Yeo-sol is a formidable warrior with a staff

Former slave Yeo-sol is a formidable warrior with a staff

However while Musa is an epic in an aesthetic sense, the script doesn’t match the visual ambition. The story and characterisation are far too simplistic and underdeveloped for such a saga and as such it’s difficult to fully invest with those involved or the odds they face, save for the fact they are underdogs. There is also a high degree of repetition, as the delegation march through an inhospitable environment before battling an enemy, then traverse a different hostile region and engage in another assault, and so on. Coupled with a running time of over 2 hours, Musa ultimately sinks into tedium, especially in the later stages.

As characterisation is an issue, audience alignment is primarily formed through the star power each actor brings to the narrative. The most successful in this endeavour are Ahn Sung-gi as conscript captain Jin-lib and Joo Jin-mo as General Choi Jung. Their quarreling regarding the correct course of action provides the greatest insight into the motivations within the party, with tantalizing hints at greater development that are never capitalised on. The greatest waste of talent applies to Jeong Woo-seong and Zhang Ziyi who are woefully underutilized throughout the film. Aside from phenomenal fighting skill and spoilt pouting, the pair rarely fulfill any other function which is a great shame considering their abilities.

The spoilt Ming princess comes to understand the horrors that lay outside the kingdom

The spoilt Ming princess comes to understand the horrors that lay outside the kingdom

Verdict:

Musa – The Warrior stands out in Korean cinema as an interesting wuxia-western fusion, one which is consistently stunning due to the visual ambition of director Kim Sung-su. Yet aside from featuring impressive attention to detail and kinetic action sequences, the overly long narrative doesn’t match the epic qualities of what’s onscreen while the A-list talent is woefully underutilized, resulting in an entertaining though uncompelling action-adventure.

★★★☆☆

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The amesiac man (Kim Jeong-tae (김정태) attempts to (re-)discover his identity

‘Remember O Goddess’ Campaign – Help an Independant Film Achieve Fruition

Remember O Goddess

Remember O Goddess

If you’ve ever wanted to be involved in Korean film production, or in independent film production in general, this is an opportunity you certainly won’t want to miss.

Remember O Goddess, an incredible noir 25 minute short film by director Yoon Jung Lee, is making waves and has been invited to several prominent festivals including the 2011 LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, in which it was a Finalist for the Golden Reel Jury Award for Short Film, in Los Angeles, USA; the 2011 Urban Suburban Film Festival, Philadelphia, USA; and the 2011 New York International Film Festival, NYC, USA amongst others.

In order to extend the film into a feature-length production, Yoon Jung Lee is seeking additional funding – which is where we can help.

To watch the 25 minute production, please visit the official Remember O Goddess site here.

Actor Kim Jeong-tae (김정태) takes the lead role as an amnesiac

Actor Kim Jeong-tae (김정태) takes the lead role as an amnesiac in a noirish world

By visiting this site at kickstarter, you can donate to help keep momentum on the project moving. You can also read the in-depth profile of all the talent involved, and the history of the production which highlights the incredible efforts of the team. Whether it’s $10 or $1,000, every little helps and will be appreciated. Depending on the level of your donation you could receive your name in the credits, a signed DVD and poster, or even a guided tour. Please see the website for more details, and let’s work together to help director Yoon Jung Lee and Remember O Goddess develop the potential so clearly displayed in the short film.

If you need more convincing, here’s a video from actor Jung Woo-sung (정우성), who worked with Yoon Jung Lee on The Good, The Bad, The Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈) with a message of his own.

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