War of the Arrows is directed and written by Kim Han-Min and can best be described as a film by Zhang Yimou crossing with Red Cliff. It definitely has an epic feel to it. Set in 1636, the second Manchurian invasion of Korea rages chaos, as villages are attacked by overpowering Manchurian soldiers. The Manchurians kidnap childhood sweethearts, Ja-in and Seo-Goon on their wedding day. In an effort to save his sister, Ja-in’s brother Nam-Yi sets out to defeat the enemy and save his sister and other Korean victims with only 1 bow. The action is obviously heavily stylized, but done so to appear more real. Truthfully, on just a 8 million dollar budget, this exceeded expectations. Ultimately the film is blockbuster filmmaking through and through.
If you like action movies with a historical flair, then this one is definitely for you. There are some wonderful moments towards the start, such as Nam-Yigetting drunk and throwing up all over Seo-Goon, or getting into a comical scrap with his friends Gang-du andGap-Yong. There is plenty of action, by the way. And when I say action, I mean relentless, ongoing and very much in your face action. Once it starts, it just keeps on going and keeps you on edge for the ride. And what’s surprising is that the movie still allows for character exposition; something South-Korean cinema is revered for and should be proud of (in case they aren’t). The costumes, whether those of saloon girls or villainous soldiers, are gorgeous; the indoor sets and outdoor locations are all vibrantly shot.
There are some nods to Hollywood stylizing here, and of course, influences are inevitable, but make no mistake, this is not a Hollywood rip-off or carbon copy of any kind. While there are similarities in certain scenes and aspect of this movie to Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, it is only on the surface level. The intent is completely different. The one thing Gibson’s adaptation had was more time to flesh out the story. War of the Arrows is not at all way compelling and the main characters’ lack of interesting depth makes them impossible to engage with.
It’s currently playing in limited release in the US, so if you are interested, this film is definitely accessible to you. “War of The Arrows” is part romantic drama, part family story and part historical action epic all underscored by a sweeping vision that is somehow both grand and grubby. Enough so, where you will be entertaining and not feel like you wasted your coin. The film won four awards in 48th Daejong Awards to Best Actor for Park Hae-il and Best New Actress for Moon Chae-won. As it continues to do well at the festivals I am sure it is poised for even more awards. In conclusion, this is an electrifying action film and a must-see for any fan of Korean cinema.
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