At one point, most of the Korean movies we had seen were about Japan invading, or about evil Japanese occupiers, etc. (Last year’s The Great Battle was different in that it was China that was invading.) It’s probably not true any more but we can say confidently that the Evil Japan Well is not one the Koreans are afraid to go to. That said, if The Battle: Roar to Victory stands out, it’s because it deeps very drinkly of that well, indeed.
The movie is about a 1920 battle where a ragtag bunch of farmers, thieves and merchants delivered a blow to the Japanese Imperial Army by luring them into a deep gorge where, if all goes well, they will be set upon by the more regular forces. Our farmer’s army—a concept beloved to any American—is already tormenting the Japanese with their guerrilla attacks when they find themselves couriering money to Manchuria to keep the resistance forces alive. Well, not couriering so much as providing cover for the couriers.
Honestly, I couldn’t quite figure this part out. The money has to get through or the war is over (for the Koreans) but it seems like that money has no actual impact on the story of the battle itself. It’s not like the money gets through and then a bunch of soldiers say, “OK, we’re in.” Maybe it was for longer term issues. I’d probably know if I were Korean.
Our hero is the always charming Yoo Hae-jin (the criminal in Mal-Mo-E: The Secret Mission, 1987: When The Day Comes) who’s kind of like a Korean Lee Marvin. We see his character in a flashback when some Japanese soldiers blow up his little brother, who sacrifices his life for him. Now he’s running this bunch of fighters, and doing the occasional official mission while harassing the Japanese as circumstances permit. A lot of the regular army think the band really are just thieves (and some of them were in the past) so they don’t have a lot of support.
By contrast, Lee Jang-ha (Jun-yeol Ryu, Little Forest, Believer, A Heart Blackened) is a young, serious man on some kind of mysterious mission that seems to be related to the money but then maybe isn’t, and he’s doing a lot of risky stuff.
There’s a bunch of military maneuvering in the movie which I could follow pretty well. About the end of the movie, when it seemed like maybe this early plotting wasn’t going to pay off, they recapped it and tied everything together, which was nice. I assume this was a natural extension of the fact that this battle actually happened, but it helped make sense out of things.
The overall vibe is kind of The Expendables-ish in that (per The Boy), the characters never felt endangered. This gets Rambo-esque at the end as Yoo’s character charges through artillery fire without a scratch or hesitation. The characters are likable, however, and it’s fun to watch them interact. Jo Woo-jin (1987, Rampant) is particularly enjoyable as the former-thief current-sniper pal of Yoo, who is exasperated by Yoo’s complete inability to hit anything with a bullet. Yoo’s swordfighting also makes for some fun moments. There’s apparently a big cameo at the end but I didn’t really get it because, hey, not that up on my Korean culture.
It’s fun. It’s patriotic. Makes you proud to be a Korean. It reminded me a bit of Warriors of the Dawn (the movie that started it all) but lacks the same sort of realism. Still worth checking out, though.