A bunch of people keep dying in the Demilitarized Zone, so Captain Jin-ho (played by Kim Min-joon) puts together a crack team of South Korean special forces to figure out what the problem is. As for the members of his crack team, well, uh, Lieutenant Yoo-hwa (played by Lee Ji-ah) is a woman. We know that because she does womanly things like putting on makeup. As for the rest of those guys, I think Staff Sergent Yoon-gil (played by Park Yoo-hwan) ends up dying on base like a chump. That's as good as I can do for names.
Anyway, "MUSUDAN" is a rather unremarkable military thriller where characters with thin personality traits slowly die off-screen by some terrible thing that's killing them which we don't get to see because special effects cost money. These characters include, guy whose mandatory military service is almost up and was unluckily assigned to the team for his exotic specialty. Other guy, whose daughter wants him to buy her a gun. Guy who says misogynist things to Yoo-hwa. That might have been more than one person I don't really remember.
It isn't until quite a ways in that this movie even vaguely threatens to be interesting, when the South Korean squad runs into North Koreans in a bunker somewhere. We already know they're not responsible, because the thing that's killing people is some sort of science fiction creature. Alas, the North Koreans, led by Lieutenant Cheol (played by Do Ji-han), are even less interesting. They are mean. Because North Korea is bad.
About the only aspect of "MUSUDAN" worth commenting on is the obvious propaganda aspect. American readers out there are no doubt used to the military being portrayed as awesome and our enemies as unequivocally evil but in South Korea such stories are harder to come by. When all men have to join the bureaucratic nightmare that is the military, and the soft propaganda seen on TV is mostly variety shows with North Korean defectors acting cheerful and well-adjusted, proto-fascist narratives lack much convincing staying power.
Take "Descendants of the Sun". Sure it's propaganda, but it's subtle propaganda, because the characters have personalities and motivation beyond just being soldiers. There's also motivation beyond the simple desire to shoot stuff, so the prospect of a dead character actually means something. I guess I kind of feel bad that one guy's daughter never got the replica gun she wanted but I don't even know if anyone who died in "MUSUDAN" was a good person.
Bad American movies can get away with this, since it's pretty much hard-coded at this point that any character who is a soldier is automatically a hero. But ripped of that cultural context, it's only that much more obvious just how pointless "MUSUDAN" is as a film. Oh, and also the action scenes are really boring, mostly because we don't get to see the titular "MUSUDAN" until right at the end. Sorry. I just wanted to discuss military propaganda more because goodness knows that's more interesting than anything that happens in this movie.
Review by William Schwartz
Available on streaming from Amazon and DVD from YESASIA
DVD MY (En Sub)
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "MUSUDAN""
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