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Original Title:
Cheon gun

South Korea 2005

Action, Comedy

Min Joon-ki

Hwang Jeong-min
Kim Seung-woo
Park Joong-hoon
Kong Hyo-jin
Kim Byeong-chun
Kim Seung-cheol
Kim Soo-hyun

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Heaven's Soldiers

Story: North- and South-Korea build an atomic bomb in a joint production. However, because of the pressure of several countries, they decide to hand over the warhead to the Americans. General Kang (Kim Seung-woo) of the north Korean army doesn't accept his country's decision and steals the warhead with the help of some of his soldiers. Moreover, he takes scientist Kim (Kong Hyo-jin) as a hostage and tries to leave the country. Therefore south Korean officer Park (Hwang Jeong-min) gets the order to stop him.
On a river the two parties finally clash and they engage into a gun fight, when suddenly a comet passes by. The next thing they know is that they have been catapulted 433 years into the past, as some Chinese barbarians attack them, but are easily driven away by the soldiers modern weapons. Henceforth, they are glorified as the "Heaven's Soldiers" by the farmers they saved.
While physicist Kim starts to construct a theory about what happened and more importantly tries to figure out how to get back to their time line, the soldiers go on a search for the now missing warhead. As if it weren't enough thief Lee Soon-shin (Park Joong-hoon) somehow manages to steal their arms.
Interestingly enough, Lee proves to be legendary General Lee, who is supposed to beat the Japanese in a not so distant future. It's only that he is so much more different than what the Koreans expected. Park makes it his business to help his idol out whereever he can and to make him the person, who he is supposed to be in the history books. Soon enough Park and his men have the chance to deliver a battle against the invading barbarians. But can Lee live up to one's expectations?

Review: In a fictional world, in which North and South Korea finally put aside their difficulties, first-time director Min Joon-ki tells a nice time travelling story, which, however, doesn't offer anything new and which also has a bitter taste to it, because of some overdone pathos. Unfortunately, the genre-mixing also doesn't work out as good as it might have been intended. At the beginning a serious war-movie, it soon drifts into the Sci-Fi genre with at times heavy comedy input. At the end we suddenly get some epic battle scenes and lots of melodramatic moments. Here, the serious undertone is predominant and there is nothing left of the former cheeriness.

While at first looking very promising, making us believe that we will get to see a decent thriller, we get to know what the film really is like, not later than when a comet carries the protagonists back through time. And storywise, there almost isn't anything more than just that...
The idea that a comet might trigger a time travel is not at all genuine and moreover sounds a big cheap. Any half-cooked scientific explanation of a time machine would have been more welcome and less ridiculous. But to put mercy before justice, after frowning for a while we soon forget about this absurd plot detail and are thrown right into ancient times in Korea, when there was no border between north and south, yet, and people had even more serious (?) problems to face, for example barbarians constantly invading the country. It's during this epoch that the soldiers meet famous strategist and general Lee Soon-shin, also known as Yi Sun-shin. Doesn't ring a bell? Well, most likely it won't, if you aren't Korean, but in Korea he is a well-known folk hero. He has driven out Japanese invaders and was the reason that Korea is not a Japanese colony, nowadays. However, our "heroes" have to find out that Lee is actually a thief, who first and foremost thinks of nothing but himself. Of course, Park and his buddies have to lend him a helping hand for Lee to get on the right track, becoming the hero he is supposed to be one day.
If you are looking for originality you are looking for it in the wrong movie, because the plot most likely will remind you of "Star Trek - First Contact". At least the premise provides us with some oppertunities for a few good laughs. Still, concerning the pacing the movie drags a lot, especially in the middle part.

You also shouldn't expect too much of the actors. Their acting is modest and the characters are all very one-dimensional. After all, Park Joong-hoon as General Lee undergoes some changes, logically. Kim Seung-woo as Kang acts in a very silent way, but at least he looks cool while doing it. His efforts are the more noticeable as he is actually playing some sort of villian. Yet, this is soon forgotten, because after they ended up in the past, there is settled an unsaid truce between the soldiers. Despite all the animosity, which has a funny climax when the two units erect a little border between themselves, in the end they naturally fight alongside each other on the battlefield. Still, all of the soldiers who died in the first gun fight between the soldiers were still present in my mind, so that the whole thing felt somewhat spurios. To make it even worse, we are presented with so much pathos that one might think that this is a Hollywood war-movie.

Nevertheless, the film also has some upsides. It's pretty entertaining most of the time, has some nice settings and costumes to offer and the end is best described as a well done action climax. In best "Musa"-style there is a nice battle of almost epic dimensions, in which suddenly blood is spilled in gallons. This stands in strong contrast to what we have seen of the movie before, but that's just typical for Korean movies. The most important thing is to mix together as many genres as possible...

Thanks to an eventful and action-loaded finale and because of the simple fact that the movie never gets boring, "Heaven's Soldiers" is recommendable. It's just unfortunate, that the genre mix doesn't work out. If you are looking for a profound story, look somewhere else. Every one else should check it out, because if nothing else this surely is pleasing Popcorn-cinema.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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