As improbable as this all sounds, and I realise I’ve not actually told you anything yet, but, as improbable as what you are about to read sounds, this is actually based on a true event.
Director Kim Kwang-shik (“Tabloid Truth”, “My Dear Desperado”) takes control of this, over two-hour, epic that makes the army fighting scenes of Lord Of The Rings look like they couldn’t find enough extras.
The scale of the film is superhuman; from the massive construction of fighting machinery of the time, to the sheer number of extras involved in the army scenes.
The truth of the battle is played with, a lot, and so the historians amongst you will probably want to give The Great Battle a wide berth, as will those of you who struggle to suspend belief, as there’s a lot of that required, as four men make it, largely unscathed, through each and every battle and there’s even a Harold II, Bayeux Tapestry shot thrown in for further belief suspending.
However, if you can get past those things, you’re left with an epic in every sense of the word that is wonderfully shot, each arrow and sword slash is shown in all its glory, but fails in its attempt to shoehorn some heart into proceedings and the nationalistic sentiment throughout is as if the film was made by the North, not the South.
We are in South Korea, around June of 645. We’re at the Ansi fortress, a small, castle like fortress held by the Goguryeo Kingdom, one of three at the time.
Jo In-sung (“The King”, “A Frozen Flower”) is the Commander of Ansi and, according to the Emperor of Goguryeo, he’s also a traitor after refusing to follow orders and send reinforcements to a battle. The truth, naturally, is more complex then that as, regardless of whether he sent reinforcements or not, the battle was always lost.
The emperor dispatches Nam Joo-Hyuk (“Bride Of The Water God (TV)”, “Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo (TV)” (how much do you want to see that show after reading the title??)) to assassinate In-sung and then head to the capital to face the advancing Tang forces.
However, when Joo-Hyuk reaches Ansi he finds, not a traitor, but a man trying to do the best with what he has and defending Ansi for all he’s worth. Instead of killing him, he saves him instead.
The battle is relentless as the Tang forces outnumber the Goguryeo forces by something like five to one. Park Sung-woong (“New World”, “The Gifted Hands”) is the general of the Tang army and becomes obsessed with taking Ansi.
As wave after wave after wave of Tang army advances, the Ansi fortress repels them with various means and methods, some of which lead you to question why they a) didn’t use them before (like the burning oil) and b) don’t seem to use them again.
The battle rages on for some 88-days! At one point, in order to gain an advantage, Sung-woong orders the soldiers to begin creating a rampart of epic proportions just in front of the Ansi fortress to give them the advantage, this alone takes over two-months to complete.
The problem with The Great Battle is that we have our virtually indestructible quartet, a shoehorned story of lovers in a battle, a mysterious woman who claims to talk to the gods and a constant “for our country”, that reminds you of bad American films of yore that Team America: World Police so famously lampooned.
All this means that The Great Battle leaves you a little beaten over the head. Like you’ve just watched a propaganda film, rather than, what should have been, an epic movie about an epic battle in Korean history.