Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Fortress

Well, that was kind of disappointing. Not really bad, but never exciting, and it certainly didn't help that I think there were two of us in the theater. As much as I love Lee Byung-hun, I kind of wish that AMC had chosen to book the other Korean movie getting an American release this week. Resurrected Victims may not have had the big Korean stars this one had (and a name director, although anyone buying a ticket because they enjoyed Miss Granny and figured he'd do something similar was likely in for an even bigger let-down), but the premise of the dead coming back as ghouls to punish their killers and the hero trying to prove he was framed under those circumstances sounds like it'd be a heck of a lot more fun & exciting.

Namhansanseong (The Fortress)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 October 2017 in AMC Stonebriar #22 (first-run, DCP)

The Fortress is not what one would call a rousing war epic, but while it may inevitably serve as an anti-war story of sorts, it is perhaps too cerebral, too involved in the specific intrigues of this particular siege, to have a genuine message along those lines. That is not in and of itself particularly negative; what happens in this fortress is interesting enough. But it often means that the larger issues that might resonate in the present get left behind - this and that happened, and as a result, Korean history took a turn, and that's all there is to it.

The film picks up on 14 December 1636, when Joseon King Injo (Park Hae-il) and his cabinet has retreated to the Namhan Fortress ahead of the Chinese Qing army, which aims to put Korea under its control despite it being loyal to the Ming Dynasty. Though defensible, Namhan is easily isolated, which is why Choi Myeong-gil (Lee Byung-hun), Minister of the Interior, meets with Qing General Ingguldai to attempt to negotiate peace. That's a move strongly opposed by Kim Sang-hoon (Kim Yun-seok), Minister of Rites, who feels that the best option is to fight, and soon, as the greater Qing Army - including the Khan himself - is approaching. As they debate this, villagers like blacksmith Deo Nal-soi (Go Soo) and his brother Chil-bok ("David" Lee Da-wit) are conscripted, and the only hope seems to be getting a message out to the field marshal of the southern army, but the Qing are rapidly cutting off all routes to and from the fortress.

While Sang-hoon's opposition to Myeong-gil is staunch and principled, it is often nothing compared to Prime Minister Kim Ryu (Song Young-chang) and the bulk of the courtiers, who call for the would-be diplomat's head but are often far more focused on "dignity" and respect than the practicalities of this difficult fight. It's a promising core for the movie - the ideas introduced right from the start about the perils of a ruling class that holds itself separate from its people while still counting on a certain exceptionalism are good, meaty issues which have application will beyond 15th-century kings and courtiers. When writer/director Hwang Dong-hyuk is poking at them, there's interest to the movie, and as it goes on, the fact that the two characters most positioned in opposition to each other actually have more in common by way of their having actual ideals and connection to the people makes for genuine curiosity at how they may find common ground. Both are introduced with clear indications of their commitment to serving the kingdom despite risk to themselves and their souls, without an obvious way to reconcile their difference.

Full review on EFC.

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