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Musa: The Warrior (Region 0 Hong Kong Version)

International - // Unrated // Region 0
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Hkflix]

Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted January 16, 2005 | E-mail the Author

The Movie

Set in 14th Century China , Korean director Kim Sung-su's Musa: The Warrior spins a rousing and engaging adventure tale, the like of which seems to have been lost to filmmakers of late. Equal parts fast-moving action extravaganza, big-budget spectacle (the film was shot with a reported $60 million budget), and historical costume drama, the film moves at a breakneck pace yet never seems rushed or forced. Instead of jumping willy-nilly from one action piece to the next, Kim is content to give his characters and situations the opportunity to breathe and resonate on screen. While loaded to the gills with grisly and often quite violent action content, there is an ongoing sense of gravity and emotional urgency to the characters and their predicaments throughout the film. One thrills to the fast and free-flowing action, but at the same time you find yourself caught up in the storyline, inevitably caring about these people and their struggles. While I am loathe to compare one film to another, the film is constantly evocative of Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans (another historical adventure/drama which I thoroughly loved) for that very reason. As in Mann's film, the action in Musa: The Warrior is even more thrilling because we truly care about those involved with and enmeshed within it.

After the collapse of the Mongolian Yuan dynasty, the ascendant Ming dynasty is on the offensive to put down any outbreaks of Yuan rebellion. In the neighboring Korea, the Koryo dynasty has sent a diplomatic envoy to the ruling Ming body, led by the brash expert swordsman and general Choi Jung (Joo Jin-Moi) and bolstered by the battle-hardened archery of Sergeant Jinlip (Ahn Sung-Gi), the strategic and paternal field commander of the outfit. However, upon reaching their destination the group is captured, accused of being spies for the Yuan, and sent into exile in the desert. While in exile, the group is attacked by Yuan rebels and freed from their captivity (the Yuan have no beef with the Koreans; only their Ming captors.) On their way back to Korea, the main diplomat is killed, in essence freeing his slave Yeosol (Jung Woo-Sung), a silent, steely-eyed warrior whose battlefield prowess and mastery of the spear is second to none. While the group is resting and eating at a local campsite, Yeosol single-handedly takes-on and bests a handful of Yuan warriors in combat. He ends up being captured by Yuan general Rambulhwa (Yu Rongguang), who is impressed by the feral warrior's combat ability. General Choi is willing to leave the slave to his fate, but the situation changes when he captures a glimpse of Princess Furong (Zhang Ziyi), a Ming princess captured by the Yuans. Ostensibly sensing an opportunity to make peace with the Mings by returning their captured princess, Choi rescues Furong and Yeosol, setting off a cat-and-mouse chase throughout the Chinese wilderness between the Yuan rebels and the small band of Korean exiles (who are joined by a group of Han refugees they encounter shortly thereafter.)

The conflicts are quickly delineated within the group: both Yeosol and Choi vie for the affection and attention of the lovely princess, while true leadership of the group seems to hinge between Choi and Jinlip, the former being more preoccupied with the princess and his mission, while the latter being more concerned with his men and getting them home. Class conflict also becomes a recurring theme: the loftiness of the princess is contrasted sharply against both the wretched state of the Han refugees as well as Yeosol's status as a slave. The cost to return her is paid in both Han refugee and Korean exile blood, and the question of whether or not their sacrifice is justified is a recurring theme throughout the film.

Yet the most impressive element Musa: The Warrior of is the action. The proceedings here are more Braveheart than Hero, eschewing CGI and over-stylized balletic movements with raw, grisly brutality. That's not to say that the action presented here isn't at times gracefully or even beautifully rendered, but the film is more concerned with the raw, chaotic kineticism of battle than stylized hyper-reality. Limbs are severed, heads roll, and gushing bloody wounds are exposed with utmost detail by an unflinching camera. If violence is not your cup of tea, prepare for heapin' honkin' helpful of Earl Grey.

If there is a weak element of Musa: The Warrior, it is perhaps in Zhang Ziyi. Her performance is regal and austere enough, but her role is woefully underwritten. The beautiful young actress radiates charisma but the character of Princess Furong is so slight and one-note that Zhang cannot do much with her. Compared with some of the meatier roles in the film, Zhang's participation almost seems like an afterthought. Still, it's a minor complaint in an otherwise enjoyable and rousing motion picture.



Musa: The Warrior is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and has been anamorphically-enhanced for your widescreen-viewing enjoyment. The film seems to be bathed in sepia tones; there is a brownish-orange tint to most of the movie, which should not be confused with poor contrasts and muted color levels. Image detail is generally pleasing, with fine sharpness levels and only occasional moments of softness present. Colors and contrasts are stylized (as mentioned before) but well presented, with acceptable black levels and fine shadow delineation. Some minor print flaws are noticeable at times, but these are extremely few and far in between. Compression noise is non-existent, while some edge haloing is discernable. Despite the nitpicks, this is overall a fine transfer.


The audio is presented in both Cantonese and Korean audio tracks, each delivered in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. The sound on this DVD is simply superb, with aggressive and engaging utilization of the soundfield to present a thoroughly entertaining soundtrack. The copious amounts of action onscreen are blended well with the accompanying sonic delivery; every arrow, hoof beat, clash of swords, and battle cry is well placed throughout the mix, resulting in a sharp and focused presentation. Surrounds are put to good use here; the mix presents fine imaging and directionality, with solid use of LFE to provide solid low-end rumbling. Dialog levels are crisp and generally clear; no awful English dub is included here, although thankfully there are English subtitles.


There are no extras included on this DVD.

Final Thoughts:

A must for serious action/adventure fans, Musa: The Warrior is perhaps one of the most accessible Korean films for Western audiences I have seen (provided that said audience doesn't run screaming from foreign films with subtitles.) The story is straightforward, the characters clearly delineated, and the action fast and bloody enough for even the most discriminatory of action fans. But where the film stands apart from the mundane is in its attention to character, plot, and conflict. Musa: The Warrior is a story first and foremost instead of a being little more than spectacle. And yet, Kim Sung-su's film still remains a breathtaking spectacle to behold. Recommended!







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