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Andrew

Musa the Warrior

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I believe thanks is due to the gang at Twitch for this recommendation - what a terrific, unexpected gem. I believe it's a joint production out of both Korea and China. Set in the 14th Century, it involves a group of Korean soldiers and dignitaries trying to find their way out of exile safely, dodging Yuan troops in their effort.

Frankly, I was expecting not much more than a set of exciting battle scenes, but it ended up being much more than that. It convincingly demonstrates a wide tableau of reactions to danger - cowardice, brutality, betrayal, and heroism - across a diverse group of empathic, mostly believable soldiers and civilians. Oh yeah, and it features the incomparable Zhang Ziyi.

For those who haven't seen it, I highly recommend it; for those who have, I'd be interested in additional thoughts and responses.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I caught this a few years ago, when I was discovering Korean cinema with films like Shiri and Failan, and it was easily one of the best films I saw at that time - a spectacularly made Braveheart-esque film that's "epic" in every meaning of the world. The battle scenes are awesome - especially the one in the forest - but you're right, the real meat of the film lies in the drama, the layered relationships that form between the Korean troops and the Chinese refugees they rescue, and the romantic triangle between Zhang Ziyi and the two Koreans.

Looking back, I really remember just how much the movie sought to get across the nobility of its characters, even the villains, without neglecting the brutality in them. Nearly every character is given a chance to redeem themselves from past mistakes and cowardice (I'm thinking specifically of the interpreter's character). Ultimately, it's a fairly tragic movie, but a very powerful and resonant one nonetheless.

Here's my review...

Edited by opus

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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This movie and The Road Home are the only two movies in which I've actually liked Zhang Ziyi. I liked Musa. I liked the characters. I liked the style. It's just... the entire movie gave me a vibe of "this has been done before... often." I could swear that the last 40 minutes of the film were ripped directly from something else, but if that's the case then the place it was ripped from is buried deep in my subconscience, because I don't know what it would be.

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Nope, no Moses cameo here...

Terrific review, Opus...I couldn't agree more, although I find this far superior to 'Braveheart,' with much more empathic and developed characters, relatively plausible violence that doesn't feel at all masochistic, and no gratuitous sex scene. Thanks for mentioning a couple of other Korean gems in there as well; I just saw 'JSA,' which left me comparably impressed and curious to explore more Korean cinema.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Thanks for the kind words.

JSA is a great film, though it's just the tip of the iceberg as far as Park Chan-Wook's stuff is concerned. OldBoy has been discussed a bit elsewhere on the forums, and watching that, it's interesting to see how Park's style has developed. He seems entirely dedicated to investigating the darker side of human nature, what happens when man gives over to his baser instincts, and does so in a very stylized and polished manner.

If you haven't already, check out Friend (amazing Goodfellas-esque gangster movie based on a true story), Il Mare (very nicely done time travelling romance, very cliched but still affecting), and Failan.

Koreanfilm.org is a wonderful resource for Korean cinema, with lots of reviews, actor bios, etc.

This movie and The Road Home are the only two movies in which I've actually liked Zhang Ziyi.

I read a review of the film on City On Fire in which the reviewer - who gave the film a really positive score - made this somewhat humorous comment: "Its only flaws are... the fact that there are one too many shots of Zhang Ziyi shedding a single tear." There's actually quite a bit of truth to that, as it seems she's had a contractual obligation to shed tears - and look luminous while doing so - in every one of her films.

Edited by opus

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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I'll add on recommendations for My Sassy Girl and Attack the Gas Station. Il Mare and Failan are both great films, as mentioned. Friend is on my (disturbingly full) "to watch" shelf. I might get to that this weekend. Personally I liked JSA better than Oldboy. It's more... accessible. My favorite Korean movie so far: Memories of Murder. Also it's a fair bet that most Kim Ki-Duk films are worth a rental, but not everyone will like those.

My controversial "to avoid" list for Korean films: Shiri, Volcano High, Sex is Zero, and Woman is the Future of Man. There are a lot of terrible Korean films but usually the Cat III HK rating is a big tipoff. Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance are a few decent Cat III exceptions.

Save the Green Planet may be the only "classic" Korean film I have left to see, after I clear through the contents of my "to watch" shelf.

Regarding Zhang Ziyi, the one-dimensional character she's been cast as in 90% of her movies annoys me. It's why The Road Home was such a welcome exception... because I'd seen her play the pissed off princess in about five too many movies at that point. The Road Home is a great movie, and the fact that it hinges on her performance makes both the movie and the performance that much more impressive. Musa was good because it was the only movie where she didn't seem to be pissed off due to some contractual obligation. And I actually thought she was attractive in Musa, which doesn't happen often.

(In case anyone is interested.... The Shelf. The "to watch" shelf is the second one from the bottom... not counting the 7 rotating Internet rentals I get, there are 24 movies on there, not counting the cartoons... lots of catching up to do.)

Edited by theoddone33

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theoddone33:

My controversial "to avoid" list for Korean films: Shiri, Volcano High, Sex is Zero, and Woman is the Future of Man. There are a lot of terrible Korean films but usually the Cat III HK rating is a big tipoff.

First, what is the Cat III HK rating?

Second, I've seen Shiri and while it wasn't particularly memorable, it did have some entertaining action sequences. Why is it on your "to avoid" list?


"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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I'll add on recommendations for My Sassy Girl and Attack the Gas StationIl Mare and Failan are both great films, as mentioned.  Friend is on my (disturbingly full) "to watch" shelf.  I might get to that this weekend.  Personally I liked JSA better than Oldboy.  It's more... accessible.  My favorite Korean movie so far: Memories of Murder.  Also it's a fair bet that most Kim Ki-Duk films are worth a rental, but not everyone will like those.

My Sassy Girl is a lot of fun, but Attack the Gas Station didn't do much for me. Maybe if I'd been a Korean teenager.

Still haven't seen Memories of Murder, though I've heard nothing but good about it.

My controversial "to avoid" list for Korean films:  Shiri, Volcano High, Sex is Zero, and Woman is the Future of Man.  There are a lot of terrible Korean films but usually the Cat III HK rating is a big tipoff.  Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance are a few decent Cat III exceptions.

I still don't see the big deal about Shiri. It has some decent action sequences, but it's little more than your typical big budget Hollywood action flick with some inter-Korean politics thrown in. Oh, and the twist ending? Saw it coming halfway into the film. I'd also mention 2009 Lost Memories as another big budget action flick to avoid. It's an interesting premise - an alternate future where Korea is a territory of Japan, with various rebels fighting for freedom - but it grows more preposterous and silly as it goes on.

And I'm glad someone else was unimpressed with Volcano High. So much potential, just wasted. There are two versions of the film out there - an uncut "Korean" version, and an edited "International" version. I've seen the Korean version - which I found to be about half an hour and 5 storylines too long - and I've heard the international version is even worse. Oh, and I came across an article last year claiming that MTV was going to release a hip-hop version of Volcano High. Just when I thought it couldn't get an crappier.

Seriously, if you want a big budget, effects-laden action flick that's pure popcorn entertained, check out Arahan.

I'd also throw out Resurrection Of The Little Matchstick Girl as another one to avoid. Interesting premise, but it can't quite decide if it wants to be a serious, post-modern Matrix-esque critique of video game culture, a tongue-in-cheek parody of the same, or something else.

Save the Green Planet may be the only "classic" Korean film I have left to see, after I clear through the contents of my "to watch" shelf.

This is easily one of my fave Korean films. It's amazing how well the film juggles so many disparate genres - suspense, black comedy, murder mystery, psychological thriller, sci-fi parody, tragedy, romance - and yet still remains incredibly affecting and involving throughout.

A couple of other Korean films to check out: Nabi (wonderful little sci-fi-esque DV flick with a very Kieslowski feel to it), Nowhere To Hide, and Manner Zero.

(In case anyone is interested.... The Shelf.    The "to watch" shelf is the second one from the bottom... not counting the 7 rotating Internet rentals I get, there are 24 movies on there, not counting the cartoons... lots of catching up to do.)

Whoa... for a minute there, I thought I was looking at a photo of my collection. biggrin.gif


"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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First, what is the Cat III HK rating?

Hong Kong rates their movies according to categories. They're a bit more ambiguous and flexible than MPAA ratings, but here's a rough breakdown. Cat I is essentially "G" (though sometimes it's be given to a film with "PG"-ish content), Cat II is essentially "PG"/"PG-13", Cat IIB is essentially "R", and Cat III is essentially "NC-17". Cat III is usually reserved for softcore porn or excessively violent/gory movies.

AFAIK, OldBoy is Cat IIB and Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance is Cat III. JSA has a Cat IIB rating, FYI.

Edited by opus

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Oh, man ... I love Volcano High though I will say that you have to see the original, longer cut. The shorter international version cuts out the guts of the story. There's not a whole lot of story there, which makes the cutting even more painful ...

And THANK YOU for bringing up Memories of Murder! That's one GREAT film that seems to have been totally overlooked ... it's all the better for being based on actual events and not trying to put a glossy end on things. Beautifully, written, shot, and acted ... fantastic on all levels. Seriously, Jason, go get this one now.

Oh ... and make sure you see the long version of Musa, too ... the international cut makes some serious omissions ...


twitch

independent and cult film.

news. reviews. discussion.

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Second, I've seen Shiri and while it wasn't particularly memorable, it did have some entertaining action sequences. Why is it on your "to avoid" list?

I just thought it was excessively boring. It's been overhyped by international film fans to an offensive degree.

As opus mentioned, CatIII usually implies either excessive violence, excessive sexuality, or both. There's some crossover... it'd be a "high R" or NC-17 if the MPAA rated the same films. A few Korean movies I've seen... I don't understand why they were rated CatIII. It seems like Korean movies need less sex/violence to get a CatIII than they do in HK. Still they're mostly a waste of time, excepting things like Ki-Duk's work and Sympathy... and a handful of others. I go by HK's ratings just because I mostly buy HK DVDs, even of Korean films. Korea's rating system uses ages.

Seriously, if you want a big budget, effects-laden action flick that's pure popcorn entertained, check out Arahan.

I absolutely loved Arahan. smile.gif Hard to believe I forgot it.

I thought Attack the Gas Station was very funny. I was nearly doubled over in laughter after the final scene. Some parts were extremely corny, but I liked it nonetheless. Stay far far far away from the Taiseng DVD though, it's terrible. (Sadly, that is the one that Netflix has.)

Memories of Murder got some decent hype around its release. It's a brilliant film. I compared it to Se7en on Usenet once and people didn't agree, but I think it succeeded where Se7en failed. Don't get me wrong, I liked Se7en, but Memories of Murder takes the whole thing up a notch as far as intensity.

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I absolutely loved Arahan. smile.gif  Hard to believe I forgot it.

In a lot of ways Arahan is a more successful Volcano High ... less stylized and not without problems of its own, but it's the same basic mix of ingredients ... not a classic, but an awful lot of fun. I've got a detailed review of it here.


twitch

independent and cult film.

news. reviews. discussion.

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I thought Attack the Gas Station was very funny.  I was nearly doubled over in laughter after the final scene.  Some parts were extremely corny, but I liked it nonetheless.  Stay far far far away from the Taiseng DVD though, it's terrible.  (Sadly, that is the one that Netflix has.)

The Taiseng version is the one I saw. Is it a different edit, or simply a very poor quality DVD?


"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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The Taiseng version is the one I saw.  Is it a different edit, or simply a very poor quality DVD?

It looked like a 4x3 pan and scan to me, which is some sort of crime against humanity. It may be cut but not very substantially. Between Netflix and other sources I see a minute of missing running time, which could just be different rounding methods. I haven't watched a good quality DVD yet, but I may pick up the Spectrum version next time I order from Korea. (The shipping is a killer. sad.gif)

Oh, and the subs on the Taiseng version seem.... off. I don't speak Korean, but others have mentioned that the amount of profanity in the subtitles is nowhere near the amount of profanity in the actual dialogue. Who knows.

Edited by theoddone33

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It looked like a 4x3 pan and scan to me, which is some sort of crime against humanity.  It may be cut but not very substantially.  Between Netflix and other sources I see a minute of missing running time, which could just be different rounding methods.  I haven't watched a good quality DVD yet, but I may pick up the Spectrum version next time I order from Korea. (The shipping is a killer. sad.gif)

Do your shopping with YesAsia ... free shipping on orders over $39 and they have shipping centers in the US, Canada and the UK so no worries about getting hit with customs charges ... their selling price is usually a buck or two more than the Korean based retailers online, but you more than make that up in what you save in shipping ...


twitch

independent and cult film.

news. reviews. discussion.

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I order from YesAsia regularly. cool.gif Recently I've been ordering a lot from KoreanDVDs.com, but I got at least one bootleg from them so that kinda puts a damper on things. Like any reputable retailer would, they stopped selling the boot when they were made aware of it, but now I stick to things that are name-brand when I order from there. (I mean, actual companies like Dawoori or Alto).

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