"If all you seek is a "bigger, better" chop socky flick, look elsewhere. Bichunmoo is more ambitious than that. It succeeds admirably in most of what it tries to accomplish, but it does stumble along the way."
AKA: Flying Warriors, Bichunmoo - Dance with Sword
Director: Kim Young-jun
Producer: Jung Tae-won, Yoo Jung-ho (executive)
Writer: Kim Young-jun, Jung Yonk-ki (based on a story by Kim Hye-rin)
Cast: Shin Hyun-joon, Kim Hee-sun (a.k.a. Kim Hee-seon), Jeong Jin-young, Jang Dong-jik
Running Time: 118 min.
Plot: At the end of the Yuan Dynasty, when Mongolians were ruling all of China, the Mongolians, the Hans, and the Koryo (ancient Korean) migrants were going through racial conflicts while experiencing strife due to the local barons' rivalry. Jinha (Shin Hyun-joon), son of a Koryo migrant, falls for Sullie (Kim Hee-sun), illegitimate daughter of a Mongolian commander. This martial arts love story depicts the conflicts that the lovers face as they struggle with the feelings and their fates.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
ALEXANDER'S REVIEW: Bichunmoo is essentially a series of set pieces featuring beautiful people, gorgeous costumes and rousing music periodically interspersed with imaginative fight scenes that blend arcade-style action and wire-fu (and the occasional exploding torso and severed head). But despite the thin story (it's all about the revenge-amins...again), implausible plot twists, enormous-to-the-point-of-confusion cast and choppy narrative, Bichunmoo rocks.
How does it rock, exactly? Let me count the ways:
1. Shin Hyun-joon as the protagonist Jinha absolutely oozes charisma. His character is incredibly complex and kicks serious ass, especially when demonstrating the coveted powers of bichun. The use of close-ups border on the gratuitous, but it's obvious the director, Kim Young-jun, saw the sexy appeal of Shin peering menacingly at the camera behind flowing, sweat-drenched bangs. (I'd even go so far as to say Shin's performance is the best I've ever seen in a film so heavy on action.)
2. I was riveted awake after a particularly dull interlude by rock music and the emergence of Jinha's black-clad, super-ninja army. Their appearance was completely unexpected (despite appearing briefly in the opening credits) but entirely welcome as there is nothing -- NOTHING -- cooler than black clad, sword-wielding, masked martial artists jumping over rooftops and lining up menacingly behind their master.
3. The music is appealingly diverse, shifting from music you'd expect to hear in a 14th century period piece to the aforementioned rock to K-pop ballads. The use of contemporary music never seemed gimmicky (A Knight's Tale, anyone?), but rather complemented the fantasy elements of the story and the dazzling, obviously fantastic costumes.
4. The costumes are brilliant, from the exotic gowns of Kim Hee-sun's Sullie, to the appropriately flowing robes of Jinha, to the totally outrageous but super-cool outfits of Jinha's small army, which were, I'm guessing, inspired by anime, video games and/or comic books. Their black ninja suits with elegant silver embroidery, topped with black conical hats, face masks and flowing raven hair (bangs are big in this film) have the same appeal as the old black Spider-man costume Peter Parker possessed in the classic Secret Wars mini-series.
There are a few things missing from this film, particularly entire story lines that might have better explained where, exactly, some of the major characters came from and what their motives were. As the other reviewers stated below, there are far too many characters and some of them look so much alike it's almost impossible to tell them apart (for example, the two women in the film look and dress identically, yet to understand events in the story, it's essential to be able to tell them apart). Also, the recruitment of Jinha's posse is inexplicably never explained, despite their heavy presence in the second half of the film. Finally, the secret art of bichun, apparently kept in a tattered volume, makes only a brief appearance despite being the sole reason why half of China seemingly wants to capture the elusive Jinha. No explanation is given to its contents or origin.
Regardless, Bichunmoo is a beautiful film, brilliantly shot and expertly performed. It's ultimately an appealing, entertaining blend of action, drama, romance, suspense and violence.
ALEXANDER'S RATING: 8/10
REEFER'S REVIEW: Being billed as the most expensive film in Korean film history is kinda like being the most popular mime in Phoenix. Big deal. I mean aren't most Korean film budgets comparable to the price of Subway's Cold Cut Combo meal (with a pepsi and child's toy of course)?
Alas, Bichunmoo is a rousing success. This film looks great! All the money for production is right up there on the screen. Brilliant cinematography, art direction, and seamless FX push this Korean-martial arts-action-fantasy-love story-tragedy straight to the top of my list of favorite films I have seen this year.
Shin Hyun-june plays Jinha, a poor farm boy who falls in love with Sullie, the illegitimate daughter of a Mongolian commander. Then comes a rich suitor (Jang Dong-jik, who strangely looks like a more menacing Yuen Biao). Jinha is a wonderful character. In the beginning, he is shy and boyish. Later, he grows into a cold and brooding warrior, but because of his subtle and tragic performance, we are not shocked by the transition. The bulk of this movie rests firmly on the actor, Shin Hyun-june's shoulders. Like Chow Yun Fat in Heroic Bloodshed films, Shin achieves instant credibility. Anything he cares about the viewer cares about.
The rest of the film could be diagrammed as followed: A confrontation. Revenge. A bunch of fights. Betrayal. Reunions. A second generation. More battles. Love story. Another reunion. More betrayal. Some explanation. Love story. Big fight. Bigger fight. Love story. The End. Thus, a major flaw in Bichunmoo is that it's a three-hour film crammed into a two-hour one. Plus, without much explanation, characters enter and exit the story, sometimes seeming to be in two places at once! Bichunmoo also suffers from having too many characters with similar appearances. I would advise people not to get discouraged if confusion sets in. It will all be clear in the end.
Laced with special FX, the fights, for the most part, are a highlight. You see Jinha also has been taught the bichun secrets, a powerful weapon in martial arts and another reason he is of interest to the bad guys. These bichun secrets allow Jinha to wave his sword and somehow send an explosive force, ripping up the ground, toward his target (similar to powers of some video game characters). Anyway, it's a pretty cool visual treat among many in this film. There is also a sequence where Jinha and Jang Dong-jik work together to defeat some thugs. While each of them engages a separate group, both steal glances at the other's progress in the fight until, at one point, there eyes meet and you can see they are both satisfied with the other's skills. Definite foreshadowing there.
Bichunmoo is a very good way to get yourself acquainted with Korean cinema and before you watch feel free to go to Subway for the Cold Cut Combo meal.
REEFER'S RATING: 8.5/10
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: So...this is where the biggest budget in Korean film history went? Hmmm. Well, it's got a lot to offer, and, mercifully, it doesn't go overboard on special effects and whatnot, but still, "biggest budget in Korean film history" instantly generates some serious hype...hype that the movie, despite being satisfactory entertainment, ultimately fails to live up to.
Bichunmoo can perhaps best be described as a mixture of new wave swordplay, historical costume drama, and Shakespearean tragedy. If all you seek is a "bigger, better" chop socky flick, look elsewhere. Bichunmoo is more ambitious than that. It succeeds admirably in most of what it tries to accomplish, but it does stumble along the way.
In an epic storyline spanning more than a decade in the 14th century, countless battles are fought, romance blossoms and dies, petty nobles engage in relentless behind-the-scenes struggles, martial arts secrets are handed down, children are born predestined to suffer like their ill-fated parents, power changes hands time and again, and, after two of the most "loaded" hours in the history of cinema, the whole sequence of events comes full circle, leaving a bloody swath of pointless death and destruction and a whole lot of misery in its wake.
(Speaking of circles, how about that totally white, featureless "full moon", eh?)
Bichunmoo's large cast of characters is led by Jinha and Sullie, two youths (when the film starts, anyway) whose foolish notions of "love" condemn them and just about everyone they encounter to a life of bloodshed. While I am pleased that the whole movie does not rely on some ridiculous "love conquers all" theme, there's still enough of that sort of shit here to piss me off. Love, in fact, does NOT conquer all...in Bichunmoo, as in real life, it does little more than cause trouble for everyone involved.
Anyway...sword fights aplenty pop up, but none of them lasts very long, and the Bichun secret techniques used by Jinha resemble something you'd see in an anime film like Ninja Scroll, especially with the running on water and other special effects (but at least people don't constantly fly through the air, contrary to the alternate title "Flying Warriors"). It should be noted that there's not a whole lot of genuine martial arts talent on display here, as the fight scenes are too fast and have too many cuts to generate any appreciable amount of real excitement. That's not as bad as it sounds, though, because, despite the large amount of violence in Bichunmoo, none of it is gratuitous. The multitudinous fights are not eye candy for action junkies; they are parts of the story. You can't skip around, only watching the fight scenes as you might do for "lesser" martial arts films. You just gotta watch the whole thing. Otherwise you're missing the point.
Bichunmoo has a very intricate storyline involving a cast of many, taking place during several different points in time. It's fascinating to watch the various characters interact with one another, all for their own reasons, each possessing unique motivations and viewpoints, every one holding some piece of information unknown to the others that influences their actions. Alas, the less-than-expert way in which the chronology of the film is handled can seriously lessen one's enjoyment of all this. Time passes in big chunks without the viewer's knowledge. Some characters don't look any older when this happens (partly because there's so damn many of them that you'll be hard pressed to keep track of them all) and there's certainly nothing as obvious as an "X Years Later" caption. There damn well ought to be, though...one portion of the movie in particular seems designed specifically to confuse the hell out of people, no matter how diligently they pay attention. I won't name names so as not to ruin it ahead of time, but here's how it goes: Character A is removed from the main "scene." Character B is very unhappy about it. Character A, looking the same as before, makes a comeback. Character C is introduced and appears to be perhaps fifteen years old. When Characters A and B meet again, they aren't delighted to see each other, as one would expect. Through Character B's dialogue, it is revealed that a decade has passed (and, in the eyes of the audience, the status quo has been maintained) and that Character C is Character A's child, despite the fact that Character A was never shown boning Character C's mother, nor did he make any reference to it.
So, we've got ten years passing in the blink of an eye, with absolutely no indication to the viewer that this has happened until well after the fact, and the second incarnation of Christ, physically maturing at about 150% the normal growth rate.
Acting is a mixed bag, with the kids portraying Alisu and Sung coming off a little awkward, and most of the others staring either at the ground or at nothing at all with varying degrees of conviction (I was reminded of Wong Kar-Wai's "no eye contact, EVER!" movie Ashes Of Time). Cinematography is a strong point (even on the Deltamac DVD, which is inexplicably devoid of letterbox format), deftly showing off the film's many beautiful settings. The music consists of both appropriate period music and modern material with electric guitar...which works surprisingly well, at least until the latter part of the closing credits, when it really spoils the mood.
A good film, but not one that will please everyone. There isn't an iota of levity to be found anywhere, and out of a cast of more than a dozen significant, notable characters, those who survive the movie can be counted on one hand. No doubt some foolish but well-meaning critic will describe this is "Korea's answer to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Admittedly, the relationship between Jinha and Sullie towards the beginning does reek of Lo and Jen from CTHD (low status fighter falls for rich babe with Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" playing in the minds of the audience, low status fighter and rich babe part ways after considerable amount of time spent together, rich babe gives low status fighter jade trinket to remember her by), but that's pretty much where the similarities end (unless you count the running time). Bichunmoo is gloomier and more violent than CTHD, and, while not as good as the Chinese film to which it will inevitably be compared, it is good enough to stand on its own merits. Enjoy it for what it is, not for what you or somebody else thinks it SHOULD be.
NUMSKULL'S RATING: 7/10