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Original Title:

South Korea 2001

Epic, Action

Kim Sung-su

Jung Woo-sung
Ju Jin-mo
Sung-kee Ahn
Zhang Ziyi
Yu Rongguang
Park Yong-woo
Yu Hye-jin
Park Jeong-hak
Jeong Seok-yong
Han Yeong-mok

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Story: In the year 1375 after a long war with the Yuan it is the time of the Ming-Dynasty now. The Korean kingdom Koryo sends a group of diplomats to Nanjing in order to talk with the reigning Ming. However, when they arrive they are called traitors and banished from the country. On their trip through the desert they and the Ming soldiers who escort them are attacked by a group of Mongolians who belong to the Yuan. Since the Yuan are no enemies with the Koryo they only kill the escort group and consign the rest to their fate in the desert.
Leader of the Koryo people is general Choi (Ju Jin-mo), who wants to get his men back home.
This proves to be not that easy, since the Ming could think that they killed their escort group. Luckily, they find out that the leader of the Yuan soldiers Rambulhua (Yu Rongguang) kidnapped the princess of the Ming, Bu-yong (Zhang Ziyi).
To ensure their way back home Choi plans to free the princess and hand her over to the Ming. He gets a helping hand from slave Yeo-sol (Jung Woo-sung), who seems to be a real Martial Arts expert. Yet, when Choi and his men have rescued the princess the chase between the Yuan and the Koryo soldiers has just begun...

Review: "Musa" is the Korean battle epic everyone is talking about. With an exceptionally big budget we get presented a painting of war projected on screen that delivers both, impressively beautiful pictures and a disturbingly realistic level of brutality. Nonetheless, you shouldn't expect any extraordinary gigantic battle scenes. Actually, the amount of soldiers involved is easy to keep track of, which in no way means that the combats aren't epic.
In director Kim Sung-su's work the focus lies on the persons and their character development in the course of the story. Unfortunately, "Musa" as so many other epic battle movies has to deal with some problems that are just typical for the genre. We'll get to that later.

First and foremost one has to compliment the movie because of its great cinematography. There is a slight yellow filter used which is very fitting since the film takes place in the desert or other sandy and stony areas most of the time. Especially, the wonderful landscape shots of the desert or of a forest can really please the eye. At the same time the viewer can almost feel the harsh living conditions in the desert and one slowly becomes a member of the travelling group that makes its way through this barren land.

The battles in contrast to the more tranquil style of the movie, are all very dynamic and even seem a bit hectic. As if being a war-movie the camera wildly scurries through the lines of the combatants and doing so somethings are avoided to be shown, yet others are presented with all its details.
The battles look very realistic which is the work of no one else than fight-choreograph Jung Doo-hong ("Silmido", "Taegukgi"). Here you won't find any aesthetic movements, but instead the fights are shown as they really were: hard, brutal and pretty soon over. This also means that there is lots of blood. Heads and limbs are continuously seperated from people while arrows pierce the body. Like a real war-movie, "Musa" too, is shocking because of its realistic looking bloody pictures and a camera that doesn't spare with anything.

There isn't much to say about the story. At the beginning you think that it's quite complex, which is merely because you will have your problems distinguishing all the faces and names. However, soon we become aware that it is all just about the battle between the Yuan and the Koryo soldiers.
At least the script offers some pretty interesting characters. The slave Yeo-sol who was set free by his dying master, yet is deprived of his right by general Choi, is the main "hero" of the movie. It takes a while until we get to know that he actually is able to speak and thereafter the tension between him and Choi constantly rises, leading to several quarrels.
Daejung, played by Ahn Sung-kee ("Arahan"), is the leader of a group of soldiers who are subordinates of general Choi. Between him and Choi there are some little power games, the sympathy of the audience always being with Daejung. Choi just seems to be too reckless to be one of the "good guys".
It's also nice that the individualities of the characters is also depicted by the kind of weapon they use. Yeo-sol is an expert with the spear, Choi prefers a long and heavy broadsword and Daejung has almost godlike skills with his bow.
Yet, apart from the good actors there is one or rather one actress that can't be really convincing. Zhang Ziyi plays the spoiled, arrogant princess, while she lacks any in-depth of character, which was something she at least let shine through in her incredibly similar role in "Chrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". At times her character can even be really annoying.

What's making the movie so special is the way the persons undergo changes in the course of the story. With most of them this works pretty good and is brought on screen believable. Others, on the other hand, make a complete turn which just doesn't work out. At least at the end Zhang Ziyi can show some few facets of her character when she finally gets aware of her mistakes. But until then several people have died for her already. The question remains: Why? Why didn't she just head back to the Yuan, getting captured again to prevent further bloodshedding? Why did general Choi hold onto his decision to protect her even after not only numerous soldiers died for her, but also women and children?
One reason for this could be the unfitting love triangle between Yeo-sol, Bu-yong und Choi. But there are also other unlogical mistakes to be found. Why did Yeo-sol spare Rambulhuas life? If he didn't, Rambulhua couldn't have told his troops that the princess had been rescued...

There are also additional sore points. With a running time of 158 minutes "Musa" is just too long. At times the movie feels stretched and even though it never passes the border to becoming boring, there is also nothing great happening. As it is often the case with movies like this several unimportant characters fall by the wayside and serve only the purpose to be slaughtered in the next battle. Moreover, an almost genre-typical ending doesn't earn the movie any original points either.
For war epics you need to be able to sit still for several hours - a skill I haven't mastered yet. Nevertheless, the great production and the efforts of the filmmakers can't be denied. Beautiful pictures, interesting characters and well executed epic battles make "Musa" a real movie experience despite its flaws.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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