“Warriors of the Dawn” is an historical drama/action film set on the conflict between Korea and Japan in the year 1592. Korean historical action/war movies are somehow of a trend, and they are always a sign of quality, with films like “Roaring Currents”, “War of the Arrows” or “Kundo: Age of the Rampant”. These productions have nothing to envy from big Hollywood productions, having such an excellent production design.
Whereas “Warriors of the Dawn” is itself a clearly big and good looking production, it is not big on a great epic scale, as the locations are somehow scarce and simple but effective and beautiful at the same time.
The story revolves around a group of mercenary fighters who are called the Proxy Soldiers. These group of soldiers are basically poor people who can’t earn a living, and the only way available for them to have a plate of food in front of them is to fight for the rich and the royalty. Thus, this group of soldiers’s deeds are apparently considered as an official job.
Korea is facing Japan, which is invading Korea. The King is forced to seek refuge and support in China; but at these moments of war, the court is in a bit of trouble: they can’t simply go to China and ask for help, so they divide the court into two, appointing the prince as the second authority in command; and after this appointment, the king sends him into the conflict zone to recruit soldiers and to deal with the Japanese offense. Under this pretext, the Koreans have a proof that they are really in trouble and thus they can seek help.
Yoon-chul chung consolidated himself as an enormously talented and interesting filmmaker in 2008 when he directed the overlooked Korean drama “A Man who was Superman”, a really excellent film. This time, he takes a time machine to go back in time to set his new story in the 1500’s. The film’s cinematography and the set design are fantastic. As I said before, it is not as epic or as big compared to other similar productions, but it is really kept in a very good condition. We, along the film, follow this little group of Proxy Soldiers, led by To-woo, Lee Jung-jae’s character, which does (as always) a very good job on his performance. He is convincing and fun to watch and you can see he is really struggling on his role. Another member of the Proxy Soldiers is Gok-soo, Kim Mu-yeol’s character, who also does a very good job and brings effective dramatic moments and a good relationship with Lee Jung-jae’s character.
Nevertheless, the interesting and strong part of “Warriors of the Dawn” comes from Prince Gwanghae, played by young actor Yeo Jin-gu. He absolutely steals all the performing presence whenever he is on screen and really competes with Jung-jae lee when they share scenes. Jin-gu yeo brings a rich character on this little boy who feels that he doesn’t belong to this world of war, always struggling to be better but failing, as he is fearful and inexperienced. He also brings a very strong background on a specific plot point inside the film, regarding family issues with his father, the king. At first, you may not like his character and find him arrogant and hateful, but that is something that clearly changes along the film.
The action is another virtue. Right from the beginning, we get to watch a very good action sequence from the main Proxy Soldier’s group led by Jung-jae lee, and it is one of the best ones in the film. The action choreography is good and brutal. “Warriors of the Dawn” is absolutely not shy about showing bloody scenes and crudity in battle, and that is appreciated.
The pacing is generally fast and constant, always on the move showing interesting and strong moments on the screen. Although mainly agile, it does slow a bit on the middle section and the third act, and even though the ending is strong and satisfying, you get the feeling as if an important setup is missing from that part. In spite of that, the general experience is certainly satisfying and worth watching.
“Warriors of the Dawn” is a fine and entertaining historical action film; with really good action set pieces, and performances that create very interesting connections and strong dramatic moments.