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Emissaries from Korea stumble across an attempt by Mongol warriors to
kidnap a Chinese princess. Nice clean and simple premise for a Summer
blockbuster, one whose marketing (and casting) coasts on the popularity
of Crouching Tiger and Hero but whose execution is very different.
I saw this one by accident thinking it was Hero, the massive 2002 Oscar nominee also starring Zhang Ziyi (and, for all its dodgy ideology, worth discovering for the visual feast alone). The region 2 (Korean & French audio 5.1) looked good so I rented it... Back when that was still a thing.
First, this is not Hero, nor is it a wuxia or wire-work driven martial arts film. This is a Historical action film, and despite the prowesses of its heroes, Musa's violence is realistic and brutal. It is a very clever men-on-a-mission flick, with interesting balance and variety within the team, with echoes of Seven Samurai. Where things take an even more pleasant turn are in the interesting portrayal of our characters: a borderline unlikable "hero" (or so he seems at first) and princess, great nobility in the lower ranks, and a surprisingly likable and charismatic villain, if indeed you can call him that.
In production value terms, this can compete with anything Hollywood churns out, and the technical credits, from editing to earthy cinematography, are all excellent. Fast-shutter action, made popular by Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator, is put to brutal use here, and there is a fine balance of chaotic individual moments and interesting strategies, something that would later be explored in John Woo's Red Cliff. This film procures that very rare delight of watching a film and knowing exactly where all the money, effort and care went, because it is all up there on screen, and for once, equally distributed, performances included. Something you have got to see.
For your consideration, ladies and gentlemen: Musa.
There are several kinds of War movies. Some most interested in the romance
(I do not know why but there are a lot of them) using the war as a
background and others only in the facts and history.
MUSA or THE PRINCESS WARRIOR is probably in between. Because this war and almost everything that happens here is related to an unfinished love story between three characters (if you think is stupid, remember Homer's ILIADA and the reason of the Trojan War).
About seven centuries ago, Chinese got divided and a diplomatic mission from the Koryo kingdom (protected by small group of soldiers), try to make peace with the Ming dynasty. The Ming's army refuses to accept the ambassadors and escort the whole group out of the country. In the dessert, Mongolian's forces attack and kill the Ming's soldiers releasing the Koryo people in the dessert.
An ambitious, very tough (and young) Koryo general, tries to lead his people back to his country, until they found a Mongolian group carrying a Ming's princess prisoner. Engaged by the woman's beauty, he decides to rescue her, justifying his actions as a political opportunity.
Meanwhile, an ex-slave (released by the noble Ambassador before dying in the dessert), itself a great but silent warrior, gets involved in the rescue and after showing his courage and ability in combat, is forced to protect the Princess, creating obvious jealousy on the young general.
Mongolian's of course, will not accept being defeated, so they run after the small group, to recover the princess.
What happens after (the movie is more than two and a half hours long but never boring) is somehow predictably; however this is a Korean movie, so do not expect the silly and forced happy ending. What make the movie worth (a 10 / 10) is the way things are told, the beauty of the images and the poetry surrounding the story.
This movie war movie, but is not glorifying war, but the honor of people fighting for their countries. This is a love story, but a real one, were words are unnecessary and everything that happens is inside every character, but just looking at their eyes, we know what exactly are their feelings.
Halfway through the film, we realize that the line between bad and good guys is not really clear. That the real enemy is sometimes on the same side.
There are a lot of small characters, and everyone gets enough screen time, to make us care about them; sometimes even more than the main characters.
A special mention deserves the numerous war scenes. Using a slow motion, first person shots, quick editing and almost every camera trick you could imagine, you will feel in the middle of the battlefield (and a very scary one ). The blood and violence are much more realistic, than BLACK HAWK DOWN or WHEN WE WERE SOLDIERS, and the impression created is more than those two plus any other recent war related.
In brief; as far as I know this movie did not get a cinema release, but you can find it in EBAY or in some special video stores. DO NOT MISS IT; is probably the best movie of the year.
I think it was nearly a year ago that I came across the website
and first started anticipating the movie eagerly. The site
contained lots of stills from the movie throughout, and every single one of
them was utterly beautiful, like it had been painted to perfection rather
than captured in motion. It seemed unreasonable to expect the whole movie
look that good, but I was pretty sure that it was going to be impressive.
With so much anticipation and hope for a movie, it seems almost inevitable
that you are going to be disappointed when you finally see it. All the more
surprise then that MUSA meets and surpasses my expectations in every way!
First things first, yes... it really does look that good! All the way through . Like Zhang Yimou's SHANGHAI TRIAD, practically every frame is beautifully composed and rendered, and could easily hang on a gallery wall somewhere. There wasn't a single shot that I could imagine looking better than it did. The production design is incredible, the locations stunning, the special effects groundbreaking (the gore). I can't imagine how much time and money must have gone into its production, let alone talent and dedication.
MUSA is epic in the word's biggest sense - I couldn't help thinking of Homer's ILIAD and ODDYSEY in many parts, and those are basically the two stories that the word 'epic' was invented for. It makes Gladiator, Crouching Tiger etc look positively inconsequential. The movie is also made with an attention to detail that is remarkable. It is certainly the most convincing evocation of [relatively] ancient times that I have seen. You will really believe that you've been transported back to 400 something AD China, where Zhang Ziyi happens to be a princess and Yu Rong Guang a Mongol general. I really felt "Yes, this is what life was like back then. This is how things looked, this is how people behaved".
Despite the epic nature of the story, the central focus is always on a small-ish cast of characters, each of whom is very well conceived and developed throughout the movie's course. I'd guess there's about 15 major characters in the story, and a significant cast of minor characters. The performances are all superb - I'm pretty sure the actors themselves were quite convinced they really were their characters. The believability is enhanced by the costuming, makeup and I guess just good casting - all the different factions involved in the story totally look the part.
No epic would be complete without battle scenes, and MUSA has quite a few. These are all stunningly choreographed and filmed, not in a HK style like Bichunmoo, but in a completely real style. Beautifully shot of course, but the men fight like skilled soldiers really would (I'm sure), and get wounded/killed equally convincingly. The special effects of arrows and blades penetrating flesh are sometimes shockingly convincing. This might be disturbing to some, but it isn't played for titillation - it just adds to the gravity of the experience. It may be a little conspicuous that the heroes all manage to dispatch many times their own body weight in enemies, but you've got to give them *some* leeway for narrative convention .
There is a lot of planning involved in the battles, of a military nature, and this is also very convincing and fascinating. Almost as large a part of the process as the actual getting down to it with the weapons. A very believable insight into how battles were waged in the days when a bow & arrow was as hi-tech as weaponry got.
Hmmm... is there any aspect of the movie I haven't gushed praise over yet? A nod to the soundtrack I guess - good, very fitting. Sound effects in the battles are excellent. Ummm... and the lighting is really good too .
A cursory nod must be made to the films flaws as well though, lest I leave the reader with expectations of *total* perfection. The main flaw is that the movie wanders rather too far into melodrama & a little cliche towards the end. It would probably be kind of cheesy, except that it's all so well done you can't get too upset with it .
Based on actual events, Korean diplomats were sent into China with
escorts in 1375. Remember Europe was emerging from the Dark Ages at this
time, but in Asia they were an advanced civilization. With the rise of
famous Ming Dynasty in China and the waning days of the Mongols, the
emperor was eager to formalize ties with the new Chinese government. This
is the story of one of the those diplomatic missions.
This is an epic film, shoot over 9000 miles of China's northern region. Covering plains, prairies, forests, deserts and coastline. The cinematography is beautiful.
Though this is a Korean film, it utilizes the famous Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, who portrays a kidnapped daughter of the Chinese Emperor.
Throughout most of the film the Korean warriors speak Korean. The Princess and the Chinese villagers speak Mandarin. Interestingly the Mongols also speak Mandarin to each other, historically inaccurate but Mongols don't go to movies these days. Some of the Koreans can also speak Mandarin. This is accurate since the educated Koreans of the time, could read, write and speak Chinese. This film is subtitled in English.
This is a grand story of honor, sacrifice and overcoming overwhelming odds. The Korean warriors must fight the larger forces of the Mongols. Using tactics and strategies not unlike that which you can find in Sun Tzu's the Art of War writings.
If you want some insight into the culture and attitudes of the people of this region, Musa is the movie for you.
Those who settle down to enjoy the excellent 150-odd minute Musa will be
surprised at how much it suggests a Western. There's sweeping landcapes, a
cross-desert ordeal; competition between villains and heros, 'stagecoach'
chases, abandoned and defended forts, and 'cavalry' charges. These, as well
as a strong sense of a man-having-to-do what-a-Man-has-to-do, combine to
create familiarity to those who know such films as (for instance) The Alamo
and Commanche Station. That's not to say that Musa has no originality, or is
not strongly rooted within Korean national cinema. It contains a number of
striking set pieces - notably the several pitched battle scenes, multiple
characterisation, as well as some insight into the various power struggles
which make up mid-fourteenth century Asian history. But at the heart of this
package remain a well-tried fairy story, that of a cold Princess who must
learn to swallow her pride, and of a brave servant's unrequited love.
Sung-Su Kim, who directs from his own screen play, does a very good job in drawing together his disparate group of travelling companions on a dangerous journey: a Princess, a General, a monk, soldiers, wives, a cowardly translator, a whore, etc. To provide suitable contrast between the moments of combat, he relates them in short, effective, dialogue scenes. Its good to see a film too in which the ubiquitous wire work and over the top gymnastics, beloved by some Eastern action directors, is conspicuous by its absence. Its also one where the director relies less on extreme camera angles and special effects to create visual drama than on the regular ebb and flow of dramatic editing. Perhaps because of this 'naturalness', the battle scenes are consistently exciting and involving. They are also staged in enough different locales to make them varied viewing each time. A standout is a desperate confrontation amongst trees, where the director takes full advantage of foliage cover, confusion, and events within the frame to create some real martial suspense.
The HK disc I saw was generally excellent, with occasional errors in subtitle grammar, as well as the odd compression problem (on-screen blur), usually during horizontal tracking movements. All told, though, the cheap price of this disk makes it an excellent buy and I strongly recommend it - and the film.
Version: Eastern Eye's R4 DVD release. Korean audio, English subtitles.
There are two kinds of people who will enjoy 'Musa'. The first are those who will make the obvious comparisons 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and subsequently praise. The others are those like me: Easily amused by long, bloody battle scenes. Is something wrong with me?
China, 1375: The Ming are in power in China, and fighting a war against the Ming. A Korean delegation expelled by the Ming government encounters a group of Yuan soldiers who have kidnapped the Ming Princess Bu-Yong (Zhang Ziyi). After rescuing the Princess, the Koreans find that the Yuan soldiers are rather keen to capture the Princess again and kill anyone in their way. Who would have thought that making Mongolian soldiers angry was a BAD idea?
I'm a bit wary of drama movies (can you tell?), so if I'd known 'Musa' was a 2.5 hour long love story / war movie, I probably would have avoided it. I'm glad I didn't, as 'Musa' proves that even drama can be awesome! The story of love and honour set against an epic journey is one that even I'll admit to have found to moving and captivating.
Real comments aside, the only reason 'Musa' came to my attention was because it is an action movie, and features Mr. Iron Monkey himself, Rongguang Yu. A far cry from the (sometimes very) intense martial arts movies that Rongguang Yu is usually in, 'Musa' is a bloody depiction of war. No character flies around using magical kung-fu, but they can still swing a weapon around and look really cool while doing it.
I really can't say much about 'Musa' that hasn't already been said. It may have a limited appeal - its long, violent, and dramatic - but well recommended to anyone who can sit through two and a half of drama and violence. Fantastic - 10/10
It's Ancient China circa 1375, the Koryo king sent a diplomatic
delegation of diplomats, soldiers, and a mute slave to the Ming emperor
to make peace between the Yuan and Ming dynasties, but they are
regarded as spies, and thus are dispatched to a remote desert. So they
begin a journey to get back home, but after learning that a Ming
princess has been kidnapped by Yuan troops, the same troops that they
had met and fought with earlier, they see that if they rescue her it's
possible that they can get a ship needed to sail home. Cinematic ally
this is a beautiful film, the action suitably epic and the film even
poetic at times. I can safely say that this film is a wonder to behold
even in it's edited Iternational incarnation.
My Grade: A
Region 0 DVD Extras: nothing and it's the 132 minute international cut. I love this film, but try your best to seek out the R2 Scandinavia 3-Disc SE, as it has the longer 155 minute version AND the international cut AND a great deal of extras
I'd never heard of this movie until my buddy Eric rented it; that
Blockbuster carries it is I guess a good sign. Part Crouching Tiger, part
Saving Private Ryan, with just a smidgen of Hidden Fortress and an echo
Xenophon, Musa is a highly enjoyable movie.
The movie begins in 1375 with a failed delegation from Korea to the Ming dynasty. Led by General Choi Jung (Jin-mo Ju), the delegation become prisoners of the Ming, being led off to exile, when the Mongols strike. Suddenly finding themselves free, the delegation decides to rescue the captive Ming princess (Ziyi Zhang, of Crouching Tiger fame) who travels with the Mongols. When they succeed, naturally, the Mongols want her back, and thus begins an arduous trek across the desert, culminating in a Road Warrior-esque fight at a battered old castle where the survivors hole up against their much more mobile but less-civilized attackers.
Musa has action in spades, some of it exceptionally grisly (every archery attack is cause for dozens of shots of gruesome impalings). The battles are tense and tautly filmed and feel more dangerous than most combats of this type. We eschew the beautiful martial arts style so prevalent in many Hong Kong films for a grittier and far more realistic, if a bit bloody, style here. But what Musa also possesses is atmosphere; the locations and the cinematography are top-notch, from the boundless deserts to the broken-down castle by the sea. Musa does an excellent job of selling the world it is set in.
The costumes help with this as well. Not since Brotherhood of the Wolf have I seen such elaborate and effective costuming (the armor and such here was even more intricate and character-intensive than Last Samurai, which is saying something). Each character has his own particular look, is easily told apart from the others, and costuming is ultimately an extension of character, which to me has always been the whole point. These are some of the best period costumes you'll see anywhere.
The acting is all pretty good, though it tends to come from the George Lucas school of `faster, more intense.' One facet I did like is that no one is perfect; the general is a bit of a jerk; his loyal retainer Ga-nam (Jeong-Hak Park), while a mighty warrior, lacks the ability to really think for himself; the princess is spoiled; the slave-turned-warrior Yeo-sol (Woo-sung Jung) is selfless but headstrong, and so on. Even the Mongols come across as human, if a bit savage (which, having done the research, I can attest is more or less pretty accurate).
Musa isn't for everyone due to the violence. But it's a very well done period piece with wonderful visuals that certainly captivates the viewer. It's as good or better than any of the historical epics Hollywood has released in the past few years (with the exception of The Last Samurai), and from a costuming and cinematography sense is very much worth your while to see. Just don't bother tracking this down if you're a little squeamish, that's all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
- Musa The Warrior: 8.5/10
This movie had a budget of some US$60 million, which is huge for Asia. They made good use of that figure, with sometimes disturbing, but very well done fight scenes and in general, beautiful cinematography. This movie is a journey from start to finish. For all 2 1/4 or so hours, the group is journeying, and survives much longer than they expect. The characters were tremendously developed. Even peasants getting killed made you sad, because he or she had been given some screen time and you got to know them somewhat. Later on, it's an emotional rollercoaster, as familiar faces start to go down en masse in one final, epic battle. The movie had an "Asian western" theme, as it was largely set in desert/barren regions, but I never felt the scenery was repetitive, which is a credit to director Sung-su Kim and his team. Highly recommended Asian cinema excellence!
Musa is the most amazing Korean film I have seen yet. I put it in a very
small league of super high class Martial arts films like King Hu,
Kurasawa,CTHD or Hero. The weight of the performances are important to
film which takes a great deal of time to develop all the characters. The
battle scenes are better than that In historical hollywood epics. Brutal
action which is a great pay for all the wonderful character
I can't imagine being disappointed by this film. Wow.
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