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Yu Hae Jin (Actor) | Ryu Jun Yeol (Actor) | Ikeuchi Hiroyuki | Jo Woo Jin (Actor)
This professional review refers to The Battle: Roar to Victory (DVD) (Korea Version)
Films like Taegukgi and The Front Line have long proven that the South Korean film industry has the resources and talent to make spectacular war films comparable to Hollywood. And since there will always be demand in South Korea for patriotic war films that celebrate its victories on the battlefield, we now have The Battle: Roar to Victory. The latest film by Won Shin Yun (Memoir of a Murderer) doesn't reach the dramatic heights of the aforementioned predecessors, but its impressively mounted battle sequences provide plenty for fans of the genre to enjoy.
Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea, The Battle centers on the battle of Fengwudong (called Bondo-dong in the film) in 1920, when Korean independence militia banded together and defeated a Japanese battalion in the Jiandao border area (now Jilin Province, China). But instead of focusing on real Independence Army leader Hong Beom Do, the film follows a (likely fictional) band of freedom fighters that includes fearless sword-wielding leader Hwang Hae Cheol (Yoo Hae Jin), his deputy (Jo Woo Jin) and sharpshooter Lee Jang Ha (up-and-coming star Ryu Jun Yeol). To protect important funds being shipped across the border for the independence movement, the group conceives a plan that will draw the Japanese battalion to the Fengwudong mountains, where the Korean fighters can outsmart their opponents with tactics rather than sheer firepower.
Before the hour-long climatic battle sequence, Won and his co-writer Chun Ji Woo lay out a narrative that jumps between brutal depictions of war atrocities and scenes showing the ragtag nature of the guerilla fighters. The humorous dynamic between the fighters, which sets the film apart from the usual solemn nature of the genre, is reminiscent of Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds but delivered with far less digressive conversations.
The villains are even more cartoonish. Ikeuchi Hiroyuki, who's already played his share of evil Japanese characters in Chinese films, chews plenty of scenery as a member of the Japanese elite battalion, but it's Kitamura Kazuki who has all the fun as battalion leader Yasukawa. After stabbing a tiger to death in his first scene in a not-very-subtle metaphor, Yasukawa remains an obsessed and merciless warmonger to the very end, giving Kitamura the chance to deliver a delightfully unhinged performance as the main villain.
Yoo and the rest of the cast give solid performances, but the film's real star is cinematographer Kim Young Ho (Haeundae, Pirates), who captures the mountain-set battle sequences with complex, sweeping Steadicam shots that whiz through tree-lined paths and over mountain ridges. Capturing a large-scale battle with steady roving shots instead of close handheld shots provides a difficult logistical challenge when filming in such rough terrains (the mountain ranges of Gangwon Province stand in for the real Fengwudong here), but Kim's work makes The Battle one of the best-looking films in the genre.
Though bordering on exhausting, the extended battle that makes up most of the film's second half is a real spectacle to behold. Won opts to recreate the battle using real pyrotechnics rather than special effects, lending a sense of realism that fans of the genre will appreciate. Though its narrative shortcomings keep it from being a standout in its genre, The Battle will likely elevate Won's status as a solid choice for forthcoming big-budget spectacles.
by Kevin Ma