ContactSales: M-Line Distribution, Seoul (email@example.com)
Theatrical release: South Korea, 27 Jan 2011.
Presented by Lotte Entertainment (SK). Produced by Tiger Pictures (SK), Achim Pictures (SK). Executive producer: Son Gwang-ik. Producers: Jo Cheol-hyeon, Oh Seung-hyeon, Lee Jeong-se.
Script: Jo Cheol-hyeon, Oh Seung-hyeon. Photography: Jeong Jeong-hun. Editing: Kim Sang-beom, Kim Jae-beom. Music: Kim Jun-seok. Production design: Sa-Gong Hui. Art direction: Gang Seung-yong. Costumes: Shim Hyeon-seob. Sound: Im Hyeong-geun. Action: Choi Tae-hwan. Special effects: Hong Jang-pyo. Visual effects: Son Seung-hyeon (Digital Idea).
Cast: Jeong Jin-yeong (Kim Yu-shin, Shilla grand general), Lee Mun-shik (Thingamajig, the soldier from Baekje), Ryu Seung-ryong (Yeon Nam-geon, Yeon Gaesomun's second son), Yun Je-mun (Yeon Nam-saeng, Yeon Gaesomun's first son), Seon-Woo Seon (Gap-sun), Hwang Jeong-min (Kim Beob-min, Shilla king), Lee Won-jong (Yeon Gaesomun, Goguryeo generalissimo), Song Chang-gon (Geumsan soldier), Gwang Su (Mun-di, Shilla soldier), Shin Jeong-geun (Kim Heum-sun, Shilla soldier), Jeon Gi-gwang (Kim Pum-pil, Shilla soldier), Ryu Seung-su (Kim In-mun, Shilla soldier), Gang Ha-neul (Yeon Nam-san, Yeon Gaesomun's third son), Jeong Gyu-su (Goguryeo king), Lee Dae-yeon (Lee Jeok, Tang official), Kim Gang-il, Choi Jun-seok, Kim Yuk-ryong (Tang officials), Jeong Seok-yong (Abayi, Goguryeo soldier), Gang Hyeon-joong (Eul-shik, Goguryeo soldier), Ryu Seong-hyeon, Yun Yeong-geol, Lee Sang-hun, Choi Dae-seong, Gang Deuk-jong, Gang Jin-yeong (Shilla soldiers), Jo Ha-seok, Kim Do-han, Kim Cheol-jin (Goguryeo soldiers), Yu Ha-bok, Im Hyeong-taek (Goguryeo ministers), Lee Yeong-su, Kim Min-seung (Goguryeo merchants), Jeong Dong-gyu (Gap-sun's father), Lee Gwang-il (Goguryeo gatekeeper), Hwang In-beom, Lee Hyeon-woo (Tang merchants), Goh Eun-chong, Yu Dong-gyun (Baekje soldiers), Jo Cheol-hyeon, Oh Seung-hyeon, Han Dong-hak, Choi Gyeong-ha (Goguryeo ministers), Jeon Won-ju (Thingamajig's mother), Lee Won-jong (Yeon Gaesomun, Goguryeo generalissimo), Park Yong-woo (Goguryeo weapons man), Ryoo Seung-wan, Han Jae-deok (special forces generals), Kim Byeong-man, Ryu Dam (tunnel guards), Lee Joon-ik (man carrying rice).
Battlefield Heroes 평양성
Costume action comedy
2011, colour, 2.35:1, 118 mins
Directed by Lee Joon-ik (이준익 | 李濬益)
By Derek Elley
Sun, 13 March 2011, 23:24 PM (HKT)
Clever costume parody of modern North-South politics mixes laughs and action. Asian events, plus niche TV.
Korea, AD 668. Kim Beob-min (Hwang Jeong-min), king of the small southern Korean state of Shilla, does a deal with China's Tang dynasty officials to mount a combined strike against the giant northern Korean state of Goguryeo, on condition that Shilla is given back the Korean state of Baekje, its neighbour. An advance Allied Army of Shilla and Tang troops march on Pyongyang Castle, where Goguryeo's generalissimo, Yeon Gaesomun (Lee Won-jong), dies and hands over command of the army to his second son, the warlike Yeon Nam-geon (Ryu Seung-ryong) — much to the chagrin of his first son, Yeon Nam-saeng (Yun Je-mun), who favours diplomacy over conflict. Holed up in Pyongyang Castle, Goguryeo troops beat off the Allied Army's first assault by catapulting honey and bees onto the Shilla soldiers, who are then punished by their Chinese commander, Yi Jeok (Lee Dae-yeon). Meanwhile, to the frustration of Kim, Shilla grand general Kim Yu-shin (Jeong Jin-yeong) is delaying sending his main force to join the advance Allied Army, preferring to deal directly with Yeon Gaesomun's sons rather than via the Chinese. Thrown out of Pyongyang Castle by his elder brother, Yeon Nam-saeng defects to the Allied Army. Without waiting any longer for the main Shilla troops to arrive, Chinese commander Yi launches a full-scale attack on the castle but is beaten back by a "secret weapon" of the Goguryeo, who also capture an ordinary soldier in the Allied Army — Thingamajig (Lee Mun-shik) from Baekje. Thingamajig, who's suffered under Chinese rule, broadcasts a demoralising message to the Allied Army saying that Shilla troops are being manipulated by the Chinese for their own benefit. As a reward, Thingamajig is allowed to marry a brave Goguryeo female warrior, Gap-sun (Seon Woo-seon), whom he's fallen for — though much against her wishes. Still with no sign of the main Shilla army arriving, the Chinese commander orders a final assault on Pyongyang Castle.
Set eight years after the costume action comedy Once Upon a Time in a Battlefield 황산벌 (2003), and with the same director (LEE Joon-ik 이준익 | 李濬益) and several other crew members on board, Battlefield Heroes 평양성 (2011) benefits from Lee's increased experience in the intervening years and a clever script — vaguely based on historical events — that parodies modern-day politics on the Korean Peninsula. Swap the names Goguryeo for North Korea, Shilla for South Korea and Tang-dynasty China for the US, and the story of a southern Korean state fighting a northern Korean one in a military alliance with a foreign superpower takes on a whole new contemporary resonance — not to mention the film's underlying theme that Koreans should be allowed to sort out their own differences rather than be manipulated for the convenience of others.
With its parodying of North-South "sunshine politics", food relief, political asylum and other catchphrases, the script becomes much more than just a knockabout costume comedy. But even without this extra level of meaning, the movie is thoroughly enjoyable as pure entertainment, sending up the nationalistic ambitions of the main Korean protagonists (with guest star HWANG Jeong-min 황정민 | 黃晸玟 very funny as the cocky Shilla king) as well as succinctly drawing a huge number of characters, from generals and statesmen down to rank-and-file troops who just want to tend some land in peace. In the latter respect, the heart of the film is encapsulated by the role of average soldier Thingamajig, likably played by character actor LEE Mun-shik 이문식 | 李文植 (returning from Battlefield), and his unlikely relationship with Goguryeo female warrior Gap-sun, skilfully drawn by SEON-WOO Seon 선우선 in the movie's only young female role. They're surrounded by a host of other strong performances, notably lead JEONG Jin-yeong 정진영 | 鄭鎭榮 as the wily Shilla general, RYU Seung-ryong 류승룡 | 柳成龍 as the warlike Goguryeo leader, and especially YUN Je-mun 윤제문 | 尹濟文 showing good comic timing as his elder, passed-over brother.
Since his first big hit, the well-written but stodgily directed King and the Clown 왕의 남자 (2005), Lee has progressed in leaps and bounds as a technically confident film-maker — first evident in Sunny 님은 먼곳에 (2008) and notably in the recent action drama Blades of Blood 구르믈 버서난 달처럼 (2010), one of the few South Korean movies that managed to combine drama and swordplay. Smartly edited and with no pretence at historical accuracy, Heroes sustains its almost two-hour running time with action sequences that combine scope and comic klutziness, and a very Korean physical humour that isn't over-played. Most importantly, though the Chinese are hardly portrayed sympathetically, the squabbling Koreans are also hardly shown in the best of lights, thereby adding to the general sense of fun. Piqued by the less-than-expected success of Heroes at the local box office, Lee has announced his retirement from commercial film-making — if true, a sad loss to the industry by a director currently at the height of his powers.
Interestingly, the Chinese characters (all played by Koreans) speak in Mandarin with Korean subtitles — an apparent attempt at veracity that's undermined by the Mandarin being extremely poor. For international audiences, the movie would be helped by an introductory caption explaining the story set-up in simple terms, as well as some slight trimming throughout.