2 February 2004 | oshram-3
Captivating visuals certainly worth a look
I'd never heard of this movie until my buddy Eric rented it; that Blockbuster carries it is I guess a good sign. Part Crouching Tiger, part Saving Private Ryan, with just a smidgen of Hidden Fortress and an echo of Xenophon, Musa is a highly enjoyable movie.
The movie begins in 1375 with a failed delegation from Korea to the Ming dynasty. Led by General Choi Jung (Jin-mo Ju), the delegation become prisoners of the Ming, being led off to exile, when the Mongols strike. Suddenly finding themselves free, the delegation decides to rescue the captive Ming princess (Ziyi Zhang, of Crouching Tiger fame) who travels with the Mongols. When they succeed, naturally, the Mongols want her back, and thus begins an arduous trek across the desert, culminating in a Road Warrior-esque fight at a battered old castle where the survivors hole up against their much more mobile but less-civilized attackers.
Musa has action in spades, some of it exceptionally grisly (every archery attack is cause for dozens of shots of gruesome impalings). The battles are tense and tautly filmed and feel more dangerous than most combats of this type. We eschew the beautiful martial arts style so prevalent in many Hong Kong films for a grittier and far more realistic, if a bit bloody, style here. But what Musa also possesses is atmosphere; the locations and the cinematography are top-notch, from the boundless deserts to the broken-down castle by the sea. Musa does an excellent job of selling the world it is set in.
The costumes help with this as well. Not since Brotherhood of the Wolf have I seen such elaborate and effective costuming (the armor and such here was even more intricate and character-intensive than Last Samurai, which is saying something). Each character has his own particular look, is easily told apart from the others, and costuming is ultimately an extension of character, which to me has always been the whole point. These are some of the best period costumes you'll see anywhere.
The acting is all pretty good, though it tends to come from the George Lucas school of `faster, more intense.' One facet I did like is that no one is perfect; the general is a bit of a jerk; his loyal retainer Ga-nam (Jeong-Hak Park), while a mighty warrior, lacks the ability to really think for himself; the princess is spoiled; the slave-turned-warrior Yeo-sol (Woo-sung Jung) is selfless but headstrong, and so on. Even the Mongols come across as human, if a bit savage (which, having done the research, I can attest is more or less pretty accurate).
Musa isn't for everyone due to the violence. But it's a very well done period piece with wonderful visuals that certainly captivates the viewer. It's as good or better than any of the historical epics Hollywood has released in the past few years (with the exception of The Last Samurai), and from a costuming and cinematography sense is very much worth your while to see. Just don't bother tracking this down if you're a little squeamish, that's all.