Providing a through line in the amusing maze that is Lee Joon-ik's rambunctious "Battlefield Heroes," a broad satire on the follies of war, is the wonderfully expressive comedian Kim Min-sang's Thingy. He's a hapless, middle-aged peasant, a courageous truth teller, a peasant who knows that for the poor war never changes anything. He's an Everyman who survives by his wits but much more by sheer luck. "Battlefield Heroes" is a handsome, sweeping period picture, a robust, earthy comedy in which the humor, though sometimes labored, results in an amiable if lengthy entertainment.
It's A.D. 668, eight years after a key battle, the subject of Lee's 2003 "Once Upon a Time in a Battlefield," and three kingdoms are now set to go to war for control of the Korean peninsula. The Sillas have formed an uneasy alliance with China's Tang dynasty to defeat the Goguryeos, with whom Lee and his writers Jo Cheol-hyeon and Oh Seung-hyeon sympathize most. Thingy and his fellow peasants, who wish only to return to their rice paddies, live in a kingdom defeated by the Sillas and are forced by them to join their struggle.
With a comic sense of absurdity Lee reveals the uncertainties, fierceness, cruelty — and in one key instance — the treachery that permeate the meetings of the three kingdom's rulers and military leaders. These councils of war are so similar as to be interchangeable, which is surely Lee's point. In between are skirmishes and battles expertly staged but with a darkly comic view of all the things that go wrong. Ultimately, all this action and strategic debating is mainly background for the rueful misadventures of Thingy, whose bold speaking out unexpectedly lands him a wife (Seon Woo-seon), a beautiful Goguryeo warrior. "Battlefield Heroes" has a large cast but only one true hero, Kim's sweet, natured, naive yet resilient Thingy.