Even the film's action sequences help to engage the viewer with its characters. While Musa is a violent movie, the acts of brutality depicted evoke a sense of the dangers and hardships faced by the protagonists. This sense, in turn, engenders in the viewer both an awareness of their heroism and feelings of compassion.
In fact, both many of the conflicts that occur among the protagonists, especially that between Yeo-sol and the general, and the struggle between the Koreans with the Mongols are genuinely interesting. The latter has been made especially appealing as a consequence of the director's not having portrayed the Mongol general as an evil monster but as an individual who is as sympathetic a figure as are any of the protagonists. Some of the movie's conflicts, however, seem to have been recycled from other films. This is certainly true of Kim's depiction of the hostility between the lower ranking members of the embassy and the general leading them, which prompts the soldiers to back a more competent subordinate for the position, though he himself does not desire it.
There are further hackneyed elements in Musa, and these do detract from the quality of the movie, but compared with many other historical adventures, as Gladiator and Braveheart, such details are not prominent. Nor, for that matter, is Musa as overwrought and anachronistic as are either of those other films. It does contain meditations on social roles, status, and equality, but these are not burdened with the all the catchphrases of modern discourse. As a consequence, such elements do not jar the viewer into the present day, tearing him out of the ancient world the director claims to evoke.
The film is well made and attractive to view throughout. The bloody action sequences, though not beautifully choreographed, are engaging, and, although some of the minor characters are overdone, the acting is generally competent. While Musa does not excel in any area, its flaws are relatively few as well. Sung-su Kim does, as a consequence, succeed in evoking a real sense both of his characters' heroism and of the sadness of their situation.
Review by Keith Allen
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