The Fortress (2017) is a poignant look at the one place nobody wanted to be when the Qing decided to invade Joseon. Despite the fact that people make all the wrong choices, there are some people who maintain their dignity (hint: one of them is not the king).
The 2017 Korean movie depicts the final days of the Qing siege at Namhan Fortress, the mountain stronghold to which King Injo’s court retreats in an effort to maintain its (somewhat) autonomy in the face of the clash between the Ming and the Qing. A particularly brutal winter only makes matters worse, as food and supplies are running out as the Qing continue to chill and barbecue at the foot of the mountain.
On one hand, the film shows just how far the court has deteriorated as a ruling body. Rather than giving the king advice, the court officials excel at shouting each other down and calling for their colleagues to be beheaded. There is also some not-so-subtle class dynamics going on, as the officials don’t want to inconvenience the nobles but are more than willing to throw the poor soldiers defending the fort under the bus by denying them necessities. King Injo is no help, giving royal orders even through he probably knows they are wrong and unfair.
Moreover, the military is in shambles. When you gotta rely on a blacksmith (Go Soo) to save the day, things are bad. Orders have become optional. It is clear that the poor have been thrown into the army with little training or supplies. They are expendable as the court tries to preserve the “dignity” of the king. The military leaders needlessly sacrifice them in one ill-fated military strategy after another, and they are simply not even seen as part of the effort to defend the nation.
At the same time, virtue exists in the fortress. There are several impassioned exchanges between Choi Myung Kil (Lee Byung Hun) and Kim Sang Hun (Kim Yoon Seok), who represent two totally different points of view, each of which have their own merits. Quiet and kind of soft-spoken, Choi desperately wants all of them to survive, even if that means capitulating to the Qing. Ride or die, Kim would choose death over dishonor. Outside the council chamber, the two are friends, and inside the chamber they try to stem the wave of cray from the other officials. But it doesn’t seem to be enough.
The Fortress is a great film about difficult decisions and less-than-stellar options.
“[USA & Canada] Lee Byung-hun in “The Fortress” October 20 in U.S. and Canada.” Han Cinema. 22 Sept 2017. https://www.hancinema.net/usa–canada-lee-byung-hun-in-the-fortress-october-20-in-u-s-and-canada-110392.html (6 May 2018).