(The Warrior) (2001)
Directed by Sung-su Kim

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Sung-su Kim's Musa tells the story of the members of an embassy from the Korean kingdom of Koryo to the newly established Ming court in China who become embroiled in the conflict between the Mings and the Mongol Yuan dynasty they overthrew. Having failed in their mission, the Koreans are being taken as captives to a desert fortress when they are ambushed by Mongol raiders. The senior members of the embassy are killed, and the survivors, led by a military officer (Jin-mo Ju), attempt to make their way back to Korea. During this journey, they rescue a Ming princess (Zhang Ziyi) from a Mongol general and decide to return her to the Chinese court to curry favor with the emperor. The remainder of the movie details their trek across Northern China and the conflicts among the members of the embassy, especially that between the general and Yeo-sol, a freed slave (Woo-sung Jung).

The events related in Musa are not epic in scope but remain intimate throughout. The viewer is not presented with great armies battling one another but only with small groups. This focus works well for the movie, as the film makers' budget is not overstretched. What is more, by so restraining himself, the director is also able to concentrate on his characters and arouse in the viewer an awareness of their sufferings, fears, and hopes.


Even the film's action sequences help to engage the viewer with its characters. While Musa is a violent movie, the acts of brutality depicted evoke a sense of the dangers and hardships faced by the protagonists. This sense, in turn, engenders in the viewer both an awareness of their heroism and feelings of compassion.


In fact, both many of the conflicts that occur among the protagonists, especially that between Yeo-sol and the general, and the struggle between the Koreans with the Mongols are genuinely interesting. The latter has been made especially appealing as a consequence of the director's not having portrayed the Mongol general as an evil monster but as an individual who is as sympathetic a figure as are any of the protagonists. Some of the movie's conflicts, however, seem to have been recycled from other films. This is certainly true of Kim's depiction of the hostility between the lower ranking members of the embassy and the general leading them, which prompts the soldiers to back a more competent subordinate for the position, though he himself does not desire it.


There are further hackneyed elements in Musa, and these do detract from the quality of the movie, but compared with many other historical adventures, as Gladiator and Braveheart, such details are not prominent. Nor, for that matter, is Musa as overwrought and anachronistic as are either of those other films. It does contain meditations on social roles, status, and equality, but these are not burdened with the all the catchphrases of modern discourse. As a consequence, such elements do not jar the viewer into the present day, tearing him out of the ancient world the director claims to evoke.


The film is well made and attractive to view throughout. The bloody action sequences, though not beautifully choreographed, are engaging, and, although some of the minor characters are overdone, the acting is generally competent. While Musa does not excel in any area, its flaws are relatively few as well. Sung-su Kim does, as a consequence, succeed in evoking a real sense both of his characters' heroism and of the sadness of their situation.

Review by Keith Allen

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