The magnificent Ahn Sung-Kee as Saregeant Jinlip
Woo Sung Jung and Zhang Ziyi as the warrior and the princess

In 2001, when Seong-Soo Kim directed this epic, it was the most expensive South Korean movie ever made. Starring Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Zhang Ziyi, and the then largely unknown Woo-Sung Jung, it tells of the kidnapping of a Ming Princess and how she grows through her experiences from a spoilt royal into a commanding woman. Of course, being Zhang Ziyi, she also plays well the image of a beautiful and unattainable woman that men would die for. The men in this case are a freed slave (Jung) who is handy with a fighting staff, and General Choi-Jung (Ju Jin-Mo) who is just as handy with a sword.

Although it has Zhang Ziyi, that is all Musa has in common with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or any other martial arts epic. There is no aerial ballet in this movie, and no flitting about on tree tops. Seong-Su Kim and cinematographer Hyung-ku Kim are masters at filming and choreographing action. These men move like real combat soldiers, hitting out with force and power, but heavy on their feet. Every fight sequence shows the real power of men in combat, tracking, ambushing, coming at each other with full force.

The shots move quickly from moment to moment, yet it’s not a blur – it’s breathlessly exciting, brutal and often ugly. Woo Sung Jung is an awesome presence on the screen. A tall, strong man, he moves with the grace of a panther, and both Kims glory in it. He is well matched by Ju Jin-mo as the General, Park Yong-Woo as the Interpreter, and Ahn Sung-kee as Sargeant Jin lip. Each gives a strong portrayal of a complex character facing impossible odds.

Ahn Sung Kee as Jin lip is the bedrock of the movie, as he is to the raggle taggle bunch of soldiers, aristocrats and peasants who look to him for guidance when leadership fails. His strong quiet presence  brings Morgan Freeman to mind as he stands between the clashing personalities of the main leads. They are pitted against one of the most pitilessly merciless, yet profoundly honorable, of enemies in Rambulhua, the Yuan General played by Chinese actor Rongguang Yu. He is magnificent.

But there are also many notable performances among the supporting cast, including Lee Du-ll as a Buddhist monk who joins the travellers, and Han Yeong-Mok as the endearing young Dan-Saen. One of the most awesome things about this movie is that every character in it comes alive, and none are there merely to be spear carriers.

The musical score, by Japanese composer Shiro Sagisu, is haunting and stirring, from the man who scored the acclaimed anime Neongenesis Evangelion. Every frame, every sound, in Musa has been crafted by masters.


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