Too much gab during the first 75 minutes dampens the fuse of big-budget costumer "The Divine Weapon" for far too long, though those prepared to stay the course will be rewarded with some rousing widescreen action in the final hour.

Too much gab during the first 75 minutes dampens the fuse of big-budget costumer “The Divine Weapon” for far too long, though those prepared to stay the course will be rewarded with some rousing widescreen action in the final hour. Blatantly nationalistic — the end titles remind auds how Korea was 300 years ahead of Europe in developing warfare missiles — and playing free with the facts, pic could still work as a crowdpleaser at Asiaphile events with 30 minutes hacked from the first half. Divine performance locally (3.7 million admissions since its Sept. 4 bow) looks unlikely to be replicated elsewhere.

The tendency of South Korean movies toward leisurely exposition — which can be an asset in character dramas — here becomes a liability in the hands of helmer Kim Yoo-jin, who can’t keep a strong enough dramatic rein on the various characters milling around in Lee Man-heui’s untidy screenplay. Kim’s previous movies (romancer “A Promise” and cop drama “Wild Card”) also suffered from the same laxness.

Setting is the Chosun dynasty under King Sejong, circa mid-15th century, when Korea was under the eye of China’s Ming dynasty. Increasingly annoyed by the bossy Chinese, Sejong (Ahn Sung-ki) tells his chief royal guard, Chang Gang (Heo Jun-ho), to take care of Hong-ri (TV actress Han Eun-jeong), daughter of the late inventor of a secret weapon.

Chang appeals to the patriotism of Seol-ju (Jeong Jae-yeong), the maverick young head of a gang of merchants, by asking him to shelter Hong-ri and help her complete her dad’s work on the weapon. Problem is, the manual is now in the possession of Ming lackeys.

The action belatedly cranks up as Seol-ju & Co. plan a night raid on the local Ming residence to nab the manual, followed by clandestine work to complete work on the weapon (basically, banks of big rockets with explosives attached) and a riverside battle between Korean patriots and invading Ming troops. Action choreography is surprisingly good in the night raid, and the inventive final battle, with a handful of Koreans facing enemy hordes, is neatly calibrated toward a rousing finale.

Thesps, from the virile Jeong (“No Blood No Tears”) to the elegant Han, have a physical presence and onscreen chemsitry that match the realistic production and costume design, while vet Ahn lends some irony to the king and Ryu Hyeon-gyeong some cojones to Seol-ju’s tomboy sister.

The Divine Weapon

South Korea

Production

A CJ Entertainment release, in association with Cinema Service, of a KnJ Entertainment production. (International sales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Kang Woo-suk. Executive producer, Kim Ju-song. Directed by Kim Yoo-jin. Screenplay, Lee Man-heui.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Byeong Heui-seong; editor, Kim Hyeon; music, Jo Seong-woo; production designer, Min Eon-ok; costume designer, Jeong Gyeong-heui; sound (Dolby Digital), Oh Jae-jin; visual effects, Eon Digital; assistant director, Lee Chan-jik. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (market), Oct. 4, 2008. (Also in Hawaii Film Festival -- opener.) Running time: 134 MIN.

With

Jeong Jae-yeong, Han Eun-jeong, Ahn Sung-ki, Heo Jun-ho, Ryu Hyeon-gyeong.
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