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The Warrior (2001)
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The Warrior boxset -
Bichunmoo: Warrior Of Virtue

cast: Shin Hyun-june, Kim Hee-sun, Jeong Jin-young, and Jang Dong-jik
director: Kim Young-jun
113 minutes (15) 2000 widescreen ratio 16:9
Premier Asia DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Penniless warrior Jinha falls for upper-class girl Sullie. As her father takes her away to a good marriage, Jinha discovers that he is the last of an aristocratic Korean family devoted to preserving an unbeatable school of swordsmanship. Vengeance for his murdered family consumes him, even when he realises Sullie's father was involved. Meanwhile, the married Sullie has borne Jinha's son, but, preoccupied with revenge, he doesn't come to rescue her as he promised. By the time his quest for justice has ignited a general rebellion against corrupt rulers, and his forces capture her, their relationship is poisoned. Bitterly obsessed with one another, neither can forgive the other, nor let them go. As even Jinha's allies turn against him, it seems that they can only be together in death...

This martial arts epic does a good job of turning the usual boy-meets-girl clichés on their head. After their initial separation, the lovers are kept apart more by their own stubbornness than by convoluted external obstacles. To make up for that, though, all the convolutions seemed to have migrated to the action plot, which is stuffed with allies and enemies. It's near impossible to remember who's betraying whom or why; the unfortunate Jinha has obviously offended half of China, since assassins seem to leap from behind every bush. It certainly makes for an exciting couple of hours, but it can also be a bit bewildering. However, the lavish photography and beautiful design of the film lift it far above the average kung fu flick. This is a serious, epic film, exploring human desire and pettiness, the cruelties of fate, and the necessity of forgiveness and understanding. The acrobatic, fast-paced fight scenes are also extremely impressive.

This Korean film, with its rambling plot and sometimes-opaque motivations, is less accessible to a western audience than hybrid films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it shares the visual beauty of the latter, and some of its power. You may also find it hard to reconcile the hero's appellation 'Warrior Of Virtue' with his shabby treatment of Sullie - surely it was obvious she didn't have much choice about her marriage? - but perhaps the translators just slipped up there. Overall, an enjoyable, visually bewitching film that doesn't quite reach the heights of Crouching Tiger or Hero - but that is marking it against a very high standard.

DVD extras: a second disc stuffed with material. Trailers, a music video, a separate soundtrack and a photo gallery are joined by interviews with director, leading man, and fight director - a little dry, but good on the differences between Chinese and Korean movies. For the technically minded, a CGI montage shows how the various images were combined; also, an action documentary, outtakes, and a lot of behind-the-scenes footage (some of which, inevitably, seems to have been included because they happened to have it than because it reveals anything about filmmaking). There's also an enthusiastic commentary by two Asian film experts, which frequently wanders off into martial arts' movie history, but also helps to ground the film in authentic history and culture.

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