Director: Kwang-shik Kim
Stars: In-sung Jo, Sung-woong Park, Joo-Hyuk Nam
The Siege of Ansi was a three month campaign in which one of the fortresses of Goguryeo defended itself against invading soldiers of the Tang Dynasty in the year 645. Despite being extremely outnumbered, Ansi fortress commander Yang Man-chun and his 5,000 troops managed to hold their own against an army of over 200,000.
I don’t know how much of The Great Battle is historically accurate, nor do I really care. I don’t think writer/director Kim Kwang-sik cares, either. Sort of a cross between Braveheart and 300, this film appears more concerned with stylized action, epic fight scenes and depicting the Ansi warriors as total badasses than providing any kind of history lesson. As viewers, we’re better off.
The film quickly lays the groundwork leading to the standoff and wastes no time establishing the Tangs, led by ruthless emperor Li Shimin (Park Sung-woong), as guys we love to hate. Meanwhile, young Ansi cadet Sa-mul (Nam Joo-hyuk) is recruited by his commander to return to Ansi and kill Yan Man-chun (Jo In-sung), who’s considered a traitor by Goguryeo for once-refusing to fight the Tangs. In a plot turn that’ll surprise no one, Sa-mul learns to admire and respect Man-chun, who has the undying loyalty of everyone living in the village. So naturally, they all band together to defend themselves against the inevitable Tang siege.
There are a few other subplots – a couple of bickering Ansi commanders, a kidnapped medium and two young fighters in love – so we have some kind of stake in who lives or dies. And we do to a certain extent, but what really matters here is the titular conflict itself, which begins at roughly the one hour mark. The Tang army attacks in waves, each bigger and bloodier than the last, while the Ansis are forced to find increasingly ingenious ways to defend themselves. The battle scenes are massive & exciting, the body count is off the charts and the close-quarters action is stylish & kinetic without ever becoming disorienting.
Is this how it all really went down at Ansi? Who cares? What matters is that The Great Battle is great fun. Despite being a bit overlong, the action sequences compensate for most of the story’s more meandering moments. This Korean epic is highly recommended for action fans.