Have you ever wished the major battles in the Lord Of The Rings films lasted longer? The great battles of Helm’s Deep, the massive siege of Gondor… these were some of the greatest battle sequences ever filmed, and I’ve personally watched them over and over countless times.
Maybe that’s why I kept getting deja vu while watching The Great Battle.
The movie is essentially one long battle sequence stretched over two hours, and at times it felt as though the director took the best bits of the Helm’s Deep and Siege of Gondor battles and cobbled them together. Not that it’s a bad thing, mind you.
Loosely based on the Siege of Ansi, a three-month-long battle that took place between Goguryeo (old Korea) and China’s Tang forces in 645, The Great Battle really does live up to its English title perfectly (it’s known as ‘Ansi Fortress’ in Korean).
Jo In-sung stars as Yang Munchun, the legendary commander of Ansi Fortress, whose successful defence of Ansi during the siege is said to be instrumental in saving the Goguryeo kingdom from the Tang forces. Among his motley crew of soldiers are his right-hand men Choo (Bae Sung-woo), Poong (Park Byung-eun), Hwai-bo (Oh Dat-hwan), Pa-so (Uhm Tae-goo) and his sister Back-ha (Kim Seol-hyun). Joining them is a young soldier named Sa-mul, (Nam Joo-hyuk), who is actually a spy sent by Goguryeo general Yeon (Yu Oh-seong) to assassinate Yang for supposedly betraying his country.
Together, they must lead the 5,000 men of Ansi Fortress against the might of the Tang army, a 500,000-strong force led by the Tang emperor himself (played by Park Sung-woong).
In terms of action, The Great Battle delivers in spades and more – director Kim Kwang-sik doesn’t shy away from showing the violent reality of war in all its gory glory through a combination of fast cuts and some choice slow-motion money shots. Some of these slow-motion sequences can be rather disturbing – one early scene lingers on the anguished pain of a soldier lying on the battlefield catching his severed arm, while others depict the, er, separation of limbs and heads with frightening details.
While Kim does try to interject some human drama and character development into his film, these quiet moments tend to be the weaker parts of the movie. I understand the need to show how the battle is taking its toll on the people of Ansi, but at times he dials up the melodrama so much that it just jars with the gritty, battle-worn tone of the movie.
What I do like is how Kim plays out the battle sequences like a game of chess, with Tang making one move and Yang countering with a move of his own. There are a few Deus Ex Machina moments, like the way the way he suddenly finds a way to cope with Tang’s massive siege towers, but overall, it makes for an entertaining battle of wits and tactics.
In terms of performances, Jo unsurprisingly steals the show. His Yang Manchun is a likeable and relatable, almost Aragorn-ish figure – kind-hearted, noble, and with a steely determination to never give up on his city, no matter what. It is a performance that manages to lift the movie each time it threatens to be drowned in a sea of clashing swords, raining arrows and indistinguishable soldier melees.
If you like movies about long-drawn battles, then this is for you. As mentioned, it is essentially one long battle sequence punctuated by scenes of emotional drama. It may not be anywhere close to the Siege of Gondor, but at least you won’t get battle-weary watching it.
Catch this movie at Golden Screen Cinemas nationwide. Follow GSC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The Great Battle
Director: Kim Kwang-sik
Cast: Jo In-sung, Nam Joo-hyuk, and Park Sung-woong