cast: Jung Woo-sung, Zhang Zi-yi, Joo Jin-mo, Yu Rong-kwong, and Ahn Sung-kee
writer and director: Kim Sung-su
127 minutes (18) 2001 widescreen ratio 21.9
Premier Asia DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Jeff Young
Not to be confused with Asif Kapadia’s Hindi opus The Warrior (2001), this film was originally titled Musa (aka: Musa The Warrior), and is set in 14th century China, where a Korean delegation of envoys and diplomats with a small military escort is accused of spying and exiled in the desert after failing to make peace with a Ming dynasty government. Attacked by Mongol cavalry answering to the Yuan General Rambulhua (Yu Rong-kuong), many of the Koreans are killed, and it’s the dying wish of their wounded deputy envoy that ‘mute’ slave Yeo-sol (Jung Woo-sung) is granted his freedom, though the old man’s decision is opposed at first by General Choi (Joo Jin-mo) and his troops, except the sympathetic Jin-lib (Ahn Sung-kee).
As the survivors begin their long journey homeward, they learn that Mongols have kidnapped beautiful Chinese Princess Bu-yong (Zhang Zi-yi), so they rescue her with the hope that her royal authority and the Ming emperor’s gratitude will ensure them safe passage on a ship to Korea. Unfortunately for all concerned, the battle over the princess is not over yet. Aided by a travelling Buddhist monk and the unsuspected fighting skills of Yeo-sol, yet burdened with the responsibility of refugee Han peasants in addition to their promise to escort the princess to safety across the wastes of northern China, the meagre Korean group are hunted down and forced to defend themselves against a huge Yuan army, during the protracted siege of a derelict coastal fortress…
Zhang Zi-yi (from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) makes for a great leading lady. She falls off her pedestal with effortless style and grace, projecting sincerity and passion as her fragile arrogance eventually gives way to an altogether nobler attitude of compassion and wisdom. As fiercely determined yet ultimately tragic hero Yeo-sol, Jung Woo-sung is engagingly dynamic as the typical man of action, not words. He easily dominates the screen with appealingly intense expressions, darkly magnetic stares and the winning allure of ‘the most dangerous game’. This is an old-fashioned heroic adventure story that lurches on towards heartbreaking calamity under the largely confident direction of newcomer Kim Sung-su. Despite the relative failure of its overly melodramatic finale, The Warrior boasts all the potency of myth. The ‘western’ allusions are clearly an inspired choice for such a big-scale Korean production as this, and comparisons to vintage Kurosawa, and David Lean (though without the boring bits), are certainly not unwarranted.
Premier Asia’s two-disc DVD edition presents a first-rate digitally re-mastered anamorphic transfer enhanced for widescreen TV, with Dolby digital 5.1 and DTS sound options in Korean (with English subtitles) and an English dubbed version. There’s an expert commentary by Bey Logan and Mike Leeder (which I didn’t get chance to hear before the VideoVista deadline), plus a comprehensive package of featurettes including an interview with Yu Rong-kwong (of Iron Monkey fame), a behind-the-scenes look at how the film’s violent battles scenes where created, art department and production design highlights, the lavishly orchestrated music in Songs Of The Desert, 24 deleted scenes (totalling about 20 minutes worth), outtakes and candid camera footage, star biographies, an animated photo gallery (in 4:3 format), two trailers, and a making-of short.