Here is my review of ‘The Great Battle‘, the Korean historical movie that came out in 2018. I was browsing Netflix a few days ago and was in the mood for some juicy, satisfying Korean historical action flick. I noticed a picture of Jo In-sung in the thumbnail. The title was ‘The Great Battle‘. Translations a little generic, but ok. After poking around, I found out that the Korean title was ‘Ansi-seong’, which literally translates into ‘Ansi Fortress’, which I think would have been a much more enticing title.
Lo and behold, I took a look at the cast and it starred some of my favorite actors. Other than Jo In-Sung (‘Something Happened in Bali‘ (2004), ‘That Winter, the Wind Blows‘ (2013), ‘A Dirty Carnival‘ (2004)), the film included Nam Joo-hyuk (‘Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo‘ (2016), ‘Cheese in the Trap‘ (2016)), and Park Sung-woong (‘Man to Man‘ (2017), ‘When the Devil Calls Your Name‘ (2019)). So I figured I would give the film a go and wait to be blown away.
The plot on first read looked interesting for a solid historical war movie with a unique plot summary. In seventh-century Korea, the Tang Emperor, Li Shimin lays siege on Ansi Fortress with 200,000 men. Yang Man-chun, the commander of Ansi Fortress needs to beat all odds in order to stave off the invasion with only 5,000 men.
Here are my thoughts after watching all the way through: ***Spoilers below***
The Good: Marvelous Chaos
The cinematics were incredible. If anything, this movie was a treat with epic sword-fighting, hand-to-hand fight scenes, slow-motion 360 degree panoramas of skull-wrecking, limb-cleaving quadruple-kills.
The Bad: Little Character Development
There are 3 main characters: the young cadet (played by Nam Joo-hyuk), the commander (played by Jo In-Sung) and the Tang emperor (played by Park Sung-woong). Only one of them had any real character development and even then it was minimal.
We’ll start with the Tang emperor played by Park Sung-woong. He has plenty of scenes but one aspect that I was annoyed with is the one-dimensionality of the character. As the main antagonist, it seemed like his only purpose was to move the plot along by shouting out orders for his troops to invade again. We don’t learn a lot about his character or his inner thoughts. Most of the time, he’s only there to shout ‘Invade!’, ‘Attack!’, ‘Forward!’.
Next, we have our commander Yang Manchun played by Jo In-sung. Despite being vastly outnumbered by the invading Tang army, we also don’t really see his development on how he decides to defend his fortress. It seems like every defensive stance he takes, he just stands there, the camera pans around him, and he shouts an order: to either ‘use ballistic spears to topple seige towers’, or ‘fire arrows at bombs to explode on incoming enemy’. It’s very mechanical. There’s never a sense of urgency or impeding doom.
Rather, the character of Yang Manchun was portrayed as if he was already at the pinnacle of his character development. Every single incoming Tang threat was dealt with super easily.
Lastly, we have our young cadet Sa-mul played by Nam Joo-hyuk who sets out for Ansi fortress with the goal of assassinating commander Yang Manchun on the orders that Yang has turned his back on Korea. Soon enough, Sa-mul finds himself part of the Manchun’s inner circle and finds it difficult to assassinate Manchun. We do see a bit a character development here as Sam-mul struggles with the idea of assassinating the commander who has been good to him.
The Ugly: Choppy scenes making plot 100% predictable
Ohhh, there were sooo many scenes that were either skipped or hastily created due to convenience in order to forward the story, which ends up making the plot 100% predictable. One aspect is the movie tries to embrace a romance between the commander’s sister, Baek-ha and Baek-ha’s lover, Pa-so. Both happen to be skilled warriors who lead their own units in the Ansi Fortress army.
However, there is no real romance in this movie, which can be forgiven since this is a war film focusing on the invading Tang army. At one point, the Ansi army is backed up against the wall, and it was decided that there was no other way to defeat the ever-stronger Tang army other than sending an elite calvary unit (which the sister’s lover will lead) in the middle of the night to quickly assassinate the Tang emperor in his own tent.
Of course he fails, and is the only one to return back to the fortress alive. He tells everyone including the commander that the Tang emperor knew assassins were coming and that there must have been a spy in the fortress. He dies right after that dialogue.
The next thing we know, Baek-ha is charging towards the enemy by herself, gets within a few hundred feet of the Tang emperor and is killed. After those two scenes, I was about to just stop watching. First, they didn’t show how Pa-so was able to survive get out of the enemy camp and return. Then, Baek-ha randomly is able to ride out of Ansi fortress just quickly enough that nobody knew until it was too late.
Why was she able to ride out of Ansi fortress undetected with no help? Her guards didn’t go and ride out with her? How did she get so close to the Tang emperor? Their deaths didn’t really do much to move the plot along at all. All these sub-plots were so artificially tragic, but unfortunately didn’t work to pull on my heartstrings.