Film Rec: The Warrior (2001)

Musa The Warrior

The Warrior (aka Musa or Musa – The Warrior) is a Korean historical action film directed by Kim Sung-su. Although not particularly well known today, the movie was Korea’s largest production upon its release and served as a bit of a coming-out party for Korean cinema. The 2000s saw a rapid increase in quality Korean films, many of which made splashes stateside. Unfortunately, The Warrior itself largely fell through the cracks, but it’s never too late to check out an overlooked classic.

The plot concerns a 14th century Korean envoy sent to China that rescues a Ming princess from Mongols. As you might expect, that requires quite a lot of fighting with swords, spears, arrows and various other sharp things. Over its hefty 155 minute running time, The Warrior offers quite a selection of gritty action sequences, from carriage chases to forest ambushes to sieges. The action style is more akin to a bloody war film than a clean and choreographed martial arts movie, so expect large-scale set pieces featuring brutal melees in which no limbs or necks are spared.

However, what truly sets The Warrior apart from your average action flick is the character interaction, The film features an ensemble cast of strongly developed characters. The irony of the title is that there’s really no one “warrior” singled out by the film. The main protagonist could easily be one of three different characters: the inexperienced commander, the unflappable veteran, or the hot-blooded former slave. I get as much enjoyment watching the disagreements, internal politics, and class barriers unfold within the group as I do watching it actually fight Mongols.

Three Reasons to Watch:

  • Bloody Action. If you like hard, medieval-style action, this is a film for you. You’ll quickly lose count of the hacked limbs, impalements and decapitations. The direction is just slick enough to be exciting, but just sloppy enough to convey a sense of realism and danger.
  • A Unique Setting: This is one of the few films where I really took notice of how much I was enjoying the costumes. Each of the major characters in the film looks fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the weapon design, such as the lieutenant’s huge cleaver of a two-handed sword and the former slave’s signature polearm. Perhaps I’m just not as familiar with the era’s aesthetics, but everything looked very stylish and original to me.
  • Deep Characters: Action scenes between awesome-looking badasses are all well and good, but what makes a good story is ultimately the characters. One of the joys of Asian cinema is how it shies away from simple, traditional heroes and instead draws up flawed, complicated characters that provide far more opportunities for memorable drama. That’s certainly on display here.

Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You About:

  • The Music: They say music translates across all boundaries, but I’m not so sure. Some of the music in The Warrior is a bit distracting to my western ears. A humming chorus will occasionally swell during dramatic scenes that sounds more appropriate for a toothpaste commercial than a historical epic. It doesn’t outright spoil the show, but I sure could have done with something better.
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