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The Warrior (2001)
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Bichunmoo: Warrior Of Virtue
cast: Shin Hyun-june, Kim Hee-sun, Jeong Jin-young, and Jang Dong-jik
director: Kim Young-jun
113 minutes (15) 2000 widescreen ratio 16:9
Premier Asia DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Penniless warrior Jinha falls for upper-class girl Sullie. As her father takes her away
to a good marriage, Jinha discovers that he is the last of an aristocratic Korean family
devoted to preserving an unbeatable school of swordsmanship. Vengeance for his murdered
family consumes him, even when he realises Sullie's father was involved. Meanwhile, the
married Sullie has borne Jinha's son, but, preoccupied with revenge, he doesn't come to
rescue her as he promised. By the time his quest for justice has ignited a general rebellion
against corrupt rulers, and his forces capture her, their relationship is poisoned.
Bitterly obsessed with one another, neither can forgive the other, nor let them go. As
even Jinha's allies turn against him, it seems that they can only be together in death...
This martial arts epic does a good job of turning the usual boy-meets-girl clichés
on their head. After their initial separation, the lovers are kept apart more by their
own stubbornness than by convoluted external obstacles. To make up for that, though,
all the convolutions seemed to have migrated to the action plot, which is stuffed with
allies and enemies. It's near impossible to remember who's betraying whom or why; the
unfortunate Jinha has obviously offended half of China, since assassins seem to leap
from behind every bush. It certainly makes for an exciting couple of hours, but it can
also be a bit bewildering. However, the lavish photography and beautiful design of the
film lift it far above the average kung fu flick. This is a serious, epic film, exploring
human desire and pettiness, the cruelties of fate, and the necessity of forgiveness and
understanding. The acrobatic, fast-paced fight scenes are also extremely impressive.
This Korean film, with its rambling plot and sometimes-opaque motivations, is less accessible
to a western audience than hybrid films like
Hidden Dragon, but it shares the visual beauty of the latter, and some of its
power. You may also find it hard to reconcile the hero's appellation 'Warrior Of Virtue'
with his shabby treatment of Sullie - surely it was obvious she didn't have much choice
about her marriage? - but perhaps the translators just slipped up there. Overall, an
enjoyable, visually bewitching film that doesn't quite reach the heights of Crouching
- but that is marking it against a very high standard.
DVD extras: a second disc stuffed with material. Trailers, a music video, a separate
soundtrack and a photo gallery are joined by interviews with director, leading man,
and fight director - a little dry, but good on the differences between Chinese and
Korean movies. For the technically minded, a CGI montage shows how the various images
were combined; also, an action documentary, outtakes, and a lot of behind-the-scenes
footage (some of which, inevitably, seems to have been included because they happened
to have it than because it reveals anything about filmmaking). There's also an enthusiastic
commentary by two Asian film experts, which frequently wanders off into martial arts'
movie history, but also helps to ground the film in authentic history and culture.