Tuesday, March 13, 2012
From the Rental Vault (2001): The Warrior
It deals with the possible fate of an actual envoy sent from Korea to the representatives of the new Ming Dynasty rulers of China in 1375. The envoy never returned to Korea and the actual fate of the mission remains unknown. Kim Seong-soo's story is supposed to tell what happened to them.
In 1368, the Ming Dynasty began supplanting the Kublai Khan-founded Yuan Dynasty in China. Although the Koryo or Korean people had friendly relations with the Yuan, they decided to open diplomatic channels with the Ming as well, since it looked like they would eventually prevail. But the Ming reject and imprison the diplomats and their military escort, which includes the young General Choi Jung, the veteran sergeant Jin-lib and Yeo-sol, a slave to one of the envoys who is devoted to his late master. When Mongol raiders attack the prisoner caravan and slaughter the Chinese guards, they let the Koreans go where they wish. Choi Jung, now in charge of the group, originally decides to return to Korea but fears the ridicule he will face there. He and his soldiers find a Yuan company that has kidnapped the Ming Princess Bu-Yong and he decides that rescuing her will allow him to complete his mission to present diplomatic credentials to the Ming court and retain his honor and reputation. The group must make their way through hostile territory in northern China, pursued by the Mongol general Rambulwha, and slowed by the princess as well as native villagers fleeing Rambulwha.
The story of the group of fighters trapped in hostile country far from home is a common one, and The Warrior draws a lot on that vision to fuel its own plot. Think The Anabasis, if Xenophon happened to be prideful, not too bright and more or less a big jerk. Although several characters in the story make a point of blaming Princess Bu-Yong for their predicament since Rambulwha is only chasing them to recover her, it's Choi Jung's rash decision that brought the entire problem about. And he made it not for her sake, but in order to rescue his own reputation. Choi Jung is from the noble class and he treats the lower-class soldiers with disdain and disrespect, holding it back only in the case of Jin-lib because of the latter's experience, wisdom and obvious dignity. He scorns Yeo-sol in spite of the slave's skill, courage and loyalty. Over the course of the movie the young general does seem to learn his mistakes, but the lesson will come hard and the cost is great -- not only to him.
Although The Warrior is compelling and wonderfully made, it's not a particularly stirring movie because of the genuine unlikeability of most of the characters. Choi Jung's faults are listed above, but Yeo-sol himself is a grim and arrogant man -- not that you can blame him, considering how Korean slaves were seen in that time. The princess is imperious and no prize, seemingly unwilling to realize that since she is not in a royal court she can't have things the royal court way. Only Jin-lib seems to care about something more than himself, and while some of the other characters may come to that realization by the end of the movie, it's more or less too late to start liking them then.
The cast is very good at communicating these characters and emotions, especially Chinese box-office star Ziyi Zhang as Princess Bu-Yong and Sung-kee Ahn as Jin-lib. That's part of why The Warrior is definitely worth seeing once, but probably not at the top of anyone's list for multiple repeat viewings.