Musa, originally released in 2001, is an amazing, big budget Korean swordplay film with big name actors set in China during the Ming Dynasty. Musa sets itself apart from the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero with its realistic and historically accurate story. The film serves as a platform to talk about cultural differences, class clashes, and warrior kinship, but also packs a huge punch with amazing actions scenes, great acting, and an interesting story.
Musa follows a Korean diplomatic envoy sent with warrior guards and slave servants to help settle differences with China. The diverse group fails to make it to their designated city for talks and ends up headed back to Korea.
When they find themselves facing challenges, the warrior guards step forward to claim leadership, challenging the wisdom of the politicians. This begins the deterioration of the group’s class structure, and the warriors are soon challenged internally when the more experienced soldiers prove to have knowledge that the younger, “appointed” officer, played by Rongguang Yu (known for his appearance in Iron Monkey) cannot. The warriors’ abilities and training are put into question when it turns out that one of the most capable fighters is a slave. Along the way, the envoy finds itself in conflict with a Mongol army for the life of a Chinese princess (Zhang Ziyi, of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame).
Each of the actors in this very large group deliver exceptionally good performances. Virtually every actor is involved in some way or another in the many battles. Some of the combat is quite graphic and may seem excessive, but provides a level of legitimacy and expresses an intensity that makes them more real. The apparent lack of wires or computer generated graphics also make these scenes work. Combined with Sung-su Kim’s tight script and concise direction, this is a highly enjoyable action film.
Visually, the film is quite remarkable, with some incredible cinematography that highlight the beautiful landscapes, costumes and well-crafted sets. I was especially taken by the film’s color and costume direction. At the beginning, while still in a large city, the group is seen in colorful, clean outfits that light up the screen. Each of the characters is garbed in signifying colors that set them apart from the others to establish the various castes. As the movie progresses, the visuals embrace a very brown, golden feel, to signify how the lines between who is good or bad and who is of a higher caste become blurred.
Simply put, Musa is an amazing film that embraces action as a tool to demonstrate philosophical and cultural questions about caste, class, culture, history, kinship and brotherhood. It is a remarkable film that takes what could be a simple action plot and makes it something great. The story deserves more attention, and easily stands up to several viewings, showing something new in character interaction, development, visual beauty, and filmmaking techniques. No DVD collection of modern action films is complete without it.
Enjoying this film as I do, I was disappointed to find that it had no extra features in my one disc import. Yet it does have amazing DTS quality and retains an immense visual quality on the small screen. Still, I would easily say that Musa is well worth a rental and even more, a purchase.