Monday, June 19, 2017

Warriors of the Dawn

It's not the only thing that Korean cinema does well - not by a long shot - but nobody does the sort of medieval war movie where large groups of people just suddenly perforated by hails of arrows quite like South Korea. They are the ones who gave us The Divine Weapon, after all, a movie almost entirely about setting up the most overwhelming hail of arrows in history. South Korea makes a lot of great genre films, but this is the type of action that nobody else comes close to them on. China tries, but their hails of arrows are generally a bit more CGI-intensive than they have to be.

This one kind of sneaked into theaters this week - it wasn't even on the MoviePass app when I got to Boston Common - which is even more amusing when you consider that the studio logo at the front is 20th Century Fox. It's not exactly unusual to see Asian movies produced by big American studios like this (a Warner Brothers logo shows up in front of a ton of big-name Japanese movies), but usually they wind up coming to America via a specialty distributor. For instance, Well Go brought the Fox-financed The Wailing to North America last year.

I wonder if this is the start of a trend; Fox has apparently been doing this for their Indian movies for a while, but this looks like their first Korean self-import. Wonder if there will be more.

Daeribgoon (Warriors of the Dawn)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 June 2017 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

The story at the center of this film is not bad - a frightened crown prince trying to stay ahead of a Japanese invasion has only a squadron of mercenaries to support him. All must come to recognize a greater purpose, and it turns out that the prince is, in his way, serving the same purpose. It's a solid enough base that basic competence will make it enjoyable enough, although it would be really nice if it had a bit more to offer.

This one takes place in 1592, opening with a minor skirmish on the Chinese/Korean border being fought by "proxy soldiers", men who take money to serve out the military service of those with money, officially taking their name for the duration. Their leader (Lee Jung-jae) is thus referred to as "Tow-woo", though it is not his name. As they're fighting this battle, a much larger one is about to begin, with Japan invading and quickly taking Seoul and Pyongyang. King Seonjo (Park Ho-san) immediately makes plans to flee to China to seek reinforcements, but since they must be seen making at least a token effort to defend and govern their nation, he appoints squeamish, inexperienced bastard son Gwang-hae (Yeo Jin-gu) crown prince, with orders to move his portion of the split court to Gonggye along with a relatively small detachment. It includes Tow's squad, although promises to let them take exams to become official soldiers may not make a difference to those like "Goksu" (Kim Mu-yul) - one of many proxies whose contract might not get them all the way to Gonggye, given that Tow has advised a mountain route to avoid easy attack by General Tarobe (Park Hae-joon) and a mysterious group of assassins on the plains.

For all the different things that are going on, Warriors of the Dawn is built on reliable war-movie themes: The mercenaries who eventually decide to become part of a greater purpose, the higher-caste officers coming to respect the commoners serving underneath them, battles on open and wooded terrains. The key, here, is that Gwanghae is in a very real way the same as the proxies, an expendable substitute for someone of higher rank and power. Director Jeong Yoon-chul and co-writer Shin Do-young do a fair job of not harping on these themes with obvious speeches - the closest they come is a conversation between Tow and young handmaid Deog (Esom) about how both of them have, in their way, been forced into service to support their families. It's not fancy, but it works

Full review on EFC

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