Korean Against-All-Odds Siege Epic comes to Blu-ray from WellGoUSA
In Goguryeo-era Korea (645 AD), Korean forces battle to ward off the invasive forces of the Chinese Tang dynasty. A young Korean officer named Samul is sent to the Ansi Fortress of his home region to assassinate the local commander, Yang Man-chun, who has disobeyed orders to dispatch his forces to join the fight.
But as Samul soon learns, Ansi is not cowering from the war, but preparing to fend off the invaders on their very doorstep. Commander Yang Man-Chun is neither a despot nor coward, but a capable and compassionate natural leader who inspires and protects his people, who love him in return. Samul is torn between his mission and an unexpected new perspective, and has little time to decide his course as Tang forces arrive to attack the fortress.
A pull quote on the Blu-ray’s back cover calls the film “a rollicking hybrid of Seven Samurai, 300, and Lord of the Rings”. I have to say, that’s quite an accurate assessment. An overwhelming army of 200,000 descend upon the fortress, far outnumbering the small force of combatants inside.
As the fighting began, I felt that the movie was well-made, but familiar. We’d seen this done before in major siege epics like The Lord of the Rings or Kingdom of Heaven: a massive army of invaders employs trebuchets, ladders, cat-mounted battering rams, and siege towers while the defenders line up the ramparts with archers and combatants trying to stop them. It’s great action, but nothing we haven’t seen before — and better.
But the film just keeps getting better, becoming increasingly stylized and creative, even if it’s still showing off its influences. Stunning cinematography is employed as characters zip in and out of slow motion (similar to sequences in 300 and Sherlock Holmes). A far-fetched but fun-to-watch sequence has our heroes launching pouches of oil over the battlefield and improbably shooting them midair with flaming arrows to rain fire on their enemies. Two initially feuding Ansi officers even become grudging friends, not unlike Gimli and Legolas of Tolkien’s tale.
Two battles deep, the invaders dig their heels in and settle on a new long-term, brute-force tactic that seems to all but guarantee their eventual victory unless our heroes can come up with a way to out-think them. The Great Battle may start out feeling overly familiar, but settles into becoming a great military epic.
Overall the films looks good, though some low-light scenes dance with glittery noise. Photography is highly detailed, which looks amazing, though at times can also diminish some of the illusion of characters’ makeup in close-ups.
The Blu-ray version is a combo pack which also includes a DVD, and my copy came with a nice matte slipcover with glossy text and highlights.
Special Features and Extras
These disc’s two featurettes fall on the short side (they appear to have originated as production diary webisodes or EPK), but when it comes to foreign action films I often prefer these high-impact bullets to drawn-out behind the scenes which, combined with subtitles, can be a slog.
Production Commentary Featurette (3:00)
A brief Q&A combined with Behind the scenes footage. It doesn’t get deep into craft, but gives a general idea of the film’s creation.
Veni Vidi Vici: About the Characters (3:55)
Director and cast share quick overviews of the film’s characters.
Teaser Trailer (0:49)
Trailers for WellGoUSA releases Shadow (2:05), Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days (1:39), Burning (1:49), and Rampant (1:21); available from the menu and also auto-play on disc’s startup
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.