DVD The Warrior
With a budget of US$8 million, Kim Sung-su’s historical epic was Korea’s biggest blockbuster upon its release, the peninsula’s critically and commercially acclaimed answer to Gladiator or Kingdom Of Heaven. Eleven years later, its grainy cinematography puts it on the wrong side of the last decade’s glossier Korean Wave productions, but like its noble warrior protagonists, it refuses to bow out quietly. Fusing Crouching Tiger-style Wuxia cinema and Korean ultra-violence, there is still plenty left to enjoy in The Warrior, even for those of us with little knowledge of or interest in the genre.
Set in the restive years between the decline of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty and the rise of the Ming Empire, The Warrior follows a motley band of Korean envoys as they attempt to flee China after a disastrous mission to meet the new Emperor. Mistaken for spies, they are captured by Ming soldiers, but a chance encounter with a party of Mongols leaves them free to navigate a route home across the merciless Ningxia desert.
As the ambassadors succumb to dehydration, novice general Choi-jung is forced to assume command. However, his position is challenged almost immediately when the last ambassador sets free his slave, Yeo-sol. Yeo-sol asserts his right as a free man, but Choi-jung resents it, and a rivalry between the two sets in.
After more wandering, the Koreans stumble across a caravan containing supplies, but no sooner have they rested than another Mongol horde arrives, escorting the Ming princess Bu-yong to the Yuan Khan. Leaving the camp, Choi-jung stumbles across the princess’ carriage, who slips him a note through the window asking for help. Choi-jung agrees and leaves to discuss his plan with the rest of the Koreans, but, in his absence, Yeo-sol intercepts the princess’ next message, assuming it is for him.
The Koreans launch a successful rescue mission, but with the princess safe their troubles are only just beginning. Yeo-sol and Choi-jung clash, both feeling obligated to protect the princess. As they flee to a fort on the coast, picking up a large group of Chinese refugees along the way, the Mongols give chase, and soon the men find themselves fighting not just against the attacking hordes but also each other…
Like its swords-and-sandals American counterparts, such as Gladiator, The Warrior will seem instantly familiar to fans of the Charlton Heston epics of the 1950s and ‘60s, presenting a mythical take on the past complete with unrequited love and heroic sacrifice, all set against a backdrop of sweeping vistas. The parched desert scenery, consisting of deep chasms, towering sand dunes and crumbling fortresses, is a perfect complement to the frontier-feel of the story – and it doesn’t hold back in putting its pretty-boy (and girl) leads through the ringer. Sung Jung-woo and Ju Jin-moo, as Yeo-sol and Choi-jung respectively, are both almost unrecognisably haggard by the movie’s end, while even Zhang Ziyi, probably best known in the West for her role in Rush Hour 2, has her elegant royal gowns reduced to dust-caked rags as Princess Bu-yong.
There are few clichés left unturned in The Warrior, particularly for fans of the genre.
Although plenty of artistic licence was clearly taken with the plot and the characters, not to mention the superpowers, the filmmakers took great care to represent the aesthetics of the era as accurately as possible. The characters all speak in their native tongues and communicate via interpreters, thereby avoiding the trap that many Western epics fall into of presenting Roman soldiers with accents more contemporary Lambeth than ancient Latin. The costumes and props are suitably ornate and carefully reproduced, creating an evocative picture of a tumultuous late-14th century China that should satisfy all but the most dedicated sinophiles.
Despite this, The Warrior is not completely inaccessible to those with little knowledge of the period. The settings are largely incidental, devices to tell a story more concerned with the nature of class, warfare and loyalty than the accurate recreation of a Mongol breastplate. The film jumps frenetically from epic battle scene to epic battle scene, yet it’s the internal conflicts that are the most fascinating parts of the film, particularly the gradual disintegration of Princess Bu-yong’s political power over her Chinese subjects in the face of overwhelming odds. The film’s final act takes place in a besieged coastal fort, and it is here that the action gets interesting, as the petty feuds, loyalties and power struggles that have developed over the course of the film explode under the pressure of fending off the Mongol invasion.
There are few clichés left unturned in The Warrior, particularly for fans of the genre. Each character’s inevitable fate is clear from the moment they step on the screen, and all the predictable minor characters are present and correct – the fleeing pregnant woman, the nervous rookie, the embittered widow… Yet, rather than feeling hackneyed and predictable, there is something reassuring in these familiar archetypes – neatly drawn thumbnail sketches that create an instant connection with the audience, leaving the focus squarely on the action. Like the flamboyant battle scenes, there is little to shake up the genre here. Buckles are swashed and damsels are suitably distressed. The Warrior never threatens to change the cinematic landscape in any way, but, as pure spectacle, it is never any less than riotously entertaining.
There is little to trouble the originality awards in The Warrior, but as an accompaniment to a wet Sunday afternoon, it works wonderfully, especially if you’ve exhausted your House Of Flying Daggers DVD. There’s nothing too challenging or groundbreaking here, but it delivers plenty of good old-fashioned heroics with aplomb.
Film: Incendies Running time: 130 mins Director:
Denis Villeneuve Starring: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa…
Film: Earth Release date: 17th May 2010 Certificate:
18 Running time: 78 mins Director: Aleksandr Dovzhe…
For fans of Swedish director Roy Andersson, and of
cinema at the surreal end of the spectrum, the wait…