A new Korean movie opened this week at my local theater and, of course, that meant I had to go support it. So, what did I think of the 2.5-hour film regaling the events of the Battle of Ansi? Come find out as I share my thoughts on The Great Battle.
The Great Battle is a historical film about the siege of the Ansi Fortress and the epic eighty-eight-day battle that Yang Man-Chun and his Goguryeo troops fought against 500,000 invading Tang dynasty men to defend it (IMDb)
The plot of the movie is probably the best thing it has going for it. The story is fascinating and since there is not a ton of historical documentation, the director/writer was able to get very creative with their battle maneuvers. I really enjoyed seeing all the ways that the military leader Yang Man-Chun (Jo In Sung) defeated the Chinese advances. Not that I think that even half of it is accurate, but it did make for an entertaining plot.
The problem comes when the director decides that everything needs to be, well, more. More action, more giant burning structures, more buggy eyed intense moments about characters that you don’t care about. Or actors that can’t portray the intensity that the director wants, which just increases the over the top buggy eye moments. It was a lot of everything, which, in my opinion, took away from the beauty of the plot.
I understand that a person is dying without them stumbling into camp with 30 arrows sticking out of their back like a porcupine. The absurdity of the visual takes away from a moment that should be emotional and profound. This occurred with almost every death scene. It is hard to take a touching goodbye moment seriously when blood is spurting out of a vein at the same time. Not joking, it was spurting in time with the music.
Talking about music, this is something that I have to comment upon. Just like the excessive use of pressurized blood spurts, this was OVER THE TOP. For two and a half hours all you hear is loud violins and drums. SO MANY DRUMS. Don’t get me wrong. I like a dramatic score as much as the next moviegoer. However, it was nonstop. And it wasn’t like it was slowly building drums to build to a crescendo. It got to the maximum drum allotment and stayed there. There was no subtlety to the music and I felt that the director was trying to make me feel that every second was super important. But all it did was just makes the important parts not stand out in the way they should.
This is also a mixed bag of good and meh. On the one hand, I really enjoyed a lot of this director’s sweeping visuals of the battle. While I was very aware that it was all CGI and the crowds weren’t real, it still got across the grandness of the battle. I thought many of the closeup shots of the characters (well, half the characters, but I will discuss that later) were really beautiful. But then the action starts and it just goes to crap.
I do not enjoy the style of filming where they stop, pause, then fast forward (jerkily) the action. I find it distracting and unnecessary. This director uses this technique ad nauseam. Add in the fact that he likes to get “creative” with his camera angles and I had a slight headache by the end. I don’t think that anyone needs to see the world as seen by the arrow stuck in an eye socket. Yet another example of something distracting me from the moment. Also, there is never a time when the camera should jerk up and down in time with the sound of hoof beats. I can see the Calvary, I can hear the hoof beats. I don’t need to pretend that the ground is shaking to get the feeling this is meant to portray.
At this point, I guess you won’t be surprised that this is also a polarizing topic. So let’s begin with the bad and finish with the positive. Joo-Hyuk Nam & Eun-Chae Jung’s performances made me want to bonk my head on the nearest pole and cause amnesia. They were so poorly filmed. I halfway blame this on the director since it was obvious that he didn’t know what to do with their characters other than saying “be angsty and intense”. They both are not actor’s that can do, what I coin as, eye acting. So while the moments call for micro expression we instead are left with open mouths and buggy eyes.
But while they totally sucked and I wished they were both early causalities of the battle, there were many other actors/actresses that excelled in their performance. I was very surprised at how well Kim Seol Hyun did. She tends to also be an actress that I find meh, but I was impressed with her performance as Baek Ha. I also loved her love interest Uhm Tae Goo. The glimpse into their romance was one of the highlights.
The thing that saved the movie was 100% Jo In Sung’s performance. He has eye-acting in spades and I was totally convinced of his military tactician prowess and his love for his people. Jo In Sung commanded everyone’s focus anytime he was on screen and I was reminded how much I enjoy him as an actor.
After leaving the movie theater I was slightly annoyed at the over the top directing style and the drum-heavy OST. However, after having a few days to contemplate the film as a whole I am glad I went. It was worth suffering the negatives to watch In Sung Jo’s performance and some great battle strategy scenes. So I give this movie a solid 6.5. Worth watching once but not worth buying when it comes out on DVD.
Til our next movie adventure,
Dramas with a Side of Kimchi