September 25, 2018

The Great Battle: Fight, Fight, Fight

Many war movies throw in secondary story lines that pull us out of the action and make us impatient to get back to the fighting. Perhaps the intent is to make us bloodthirsty. There's no such issue with The Great Battle, Kim Kwang-shik's big, fat historic epic of an actual 88-day battle that took place between a small ingenious group of Goguryeo (Korea) and the unrelenting, much larger Tang empire (China) as the two camps fought over the Ansi fortress, way back in 645 A.D. With alarming or exhilarating regularity (depending on your point of view), blood spurts from throats, chests, shoulders, mouths, dismembered arms, dismembered legs, decapitated heads, even an eye socket as each side attacks the other with catapults, arrows, axes, swords, boulders, fire wheels, battering rams, and some innovative oil bombs. Carnage is in no short supply.

Near the ever-growing pile of dead bodies and funeral pyres are some really likable characters too: the clever Commander Yang (Jo In-sung), the naive cadet Samul (Nam Joo-hyuk), the defiant women's auxilary leader Baek-ha (Kim Seol-hyun), her dashing male counterpart and love interest Paso (Eom Tae-goo), the tireless, axe-wiedling Hwal-bo (Oh Dae-wan), his frenemy swordsman (Park Byeong-yeon), and at least a half-dozen others, warriors all. The rousing film is also filled with memorable lines you can imagine people thumbtacking on their cubicle walls like "I never learned to retreat," "You must risk your life for what you cherish," and "Do you only fight winnable battles?" If you haven't figured it out yet, let me tell you: Self-sacrifice is definitely a theme here.

The occasionally washed-out cinematography never attains the beauty of the costumes, which extend to fancy armor for some of the horses and a host of hair clips that look runway ready. Whether we'll be seeing them at Fashion Week this year is anyone's guess. I certainly wouldn't trust the predictions of Shi-mi (Jung Eun-chae), the movie's down-on-her-luck psychic. Her visions became suspect the minute she renounced her own gods.