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(Movie Review) The Great Battle: Spectacular, glorious war epic

All Headlines 15:34 September 14, 2018

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Sept. 14 (Yonhap) -- Visually striking, imaginative and compelling, "The Great Battle" easily claims its status as one of the most impressive war epics to have come out of Korean cinema in a long time.

Set in 645, the movie re-enacts the legendary 88-day battle that Gen. Yang Man-chun (played by Zo In-sung) and his 5,000 Koguryo troops fought desperately against the superior Chinese Tang invaders.

Koguryo is one of the three Korean ancient kingdoms, which lasted from the first to seventh centuries and stretched from the central part of Korea well into modern-day northeastern China at its peak.

After experiencing a crushing defeat in a war against the Tang troops led by Emperor Taizong (Park Sung-woong), Yeon Gaesomun (Yoo Oh-seong), the ruler of Koguryo, sends his young officer Sa-mul (Nam Joo-hyuk) to Ansi, a fortress town located on the northern tip of the kingdom to assassinate Yang. The lord of the town was labeled a traitor for not sending his troops to the war. Taizong then heads to Ansi, the final unconquered frontier town, before marching down to take Pyongyang.

Since little is known about the battle and Yang, making a tentpole based on long-forgotten ancient history with a relatively untested director was a massive gamble and could have gone horribly wrong.

But with the movie, director Kim Kwang-sik did what seems to be impossible: He combined his energetic style with spectacular slow-motion sequences depicting every detail of the battle's ferocious brutality and the fear of the outnumbered Koguryo soldiers as they see the swarming Tang invaders.

A scene from "The Great Battle" (Yonhap)
A scene from "The Great Battle" (Yonhap)

Kim used his cinematic imagination to recreate the main forces of the Koguryo troops and the border town, and to describe how Yang and his outnumbered soldiers outwit their formidable adversaries.

Setting new standards in Korean action films, Kim and cinematographer Nam Dong-geun used Sky Walker, a robotic camera arm, high-speed Phantom cameras and other cutting-edge filming devices to assemble glorious, nail-biting battle scenes.

Zo stands out as the lord of Ansi -- the young actor's best role yet. His acting helps shatter stereotypes about generals or military commanders, who usually are described to be old, charismatic and undaunted. But Zo's general character is young, humble and benevolent but also shrewd, courageous, and heroic on the battlefield. Audiences may feel he is miscast for the lead role at first because of his image as a light-hearted pop star, but he proves that he is the best choice.

There are also some fine performances by supporting actors to note, such as Bae Sung-woo as Yang's deputy and right-hand man Choo Soo-ji, as well as O Tae-hwan and Park Byung-eun as the Hwalbo-Pung warrior duo

The Next Entertainment World presentation is set to open on Sept. 19, days before the long Chuseok fall harvest holiday weekend.

A scene from "The Great Battle" (Yonhap)


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