WAR OF THE ARROWS (2011)
Written & Directed by: Kim Han-min
Starring: Park Hae-il, Ryoo Seung-yong, Moon Chae-won, Kim Mu-Yeol, Lee Han-wi
Orphaned as youngsters, in a barnstorming opening sequence that features dogs getting speared by arrows and sets the momentum and edgy tone for the rest of the film, Nam Yi (Park Hae-il) and his younger sister Ja-In (Moon Chae-won) are adopted by a friend of their now dead father’s. Nam Yi grows up, non-surprisingly, troubled and has become somewhat of a lay about much to the chagrin of his adopted father. However, despite his lazy combative attitude, Nam Yi is a master of the bow and arrow. In fact, he is an absolute badass, an expert at hunting, able to hit a target from a great distance and possesses the ability to curve an arrow around an object/target. When Korea comes under attack by Manchu Invaders, Ja-In is captured and taken away for a life of enslavement. Snatching up his trusty bow and arrows, Nam Yi sets off in hot pursuit in order to save his sister and kick starts a chain of events that sees the slaying of the Manchurian leader that in turns sets a horde of bloodthirsty Manchurian warriors on Nam Yi’s trail.
A blistering epic that for once, and thankfully, eschews grand scale battle scenes featuring hundreds of faceless extras or the need to craft every scene in striking colours in order to create a moving painting for grit, verve and good old fashioned chase fuelled action. That’s not to say War of the Arrows isn’t well filmed or features well mounted and ambitious action scenes as it certainly does, it’s just a refreshing change to see an epic not afraid to get dirty, grit things up a bit and feature several characters pursuing one another and locked in battle rather than the fatigued sight of hundreds of extras/CGI soldiers battling it out which is ever so popular in epic period Eastern action films of late. The camera work is still impressive stuff, if a little heavy on the shaky cam now and again, and thanks to some excellent production and costume design and location work, the film has a realistic bite to it no matter how insane the action gets.
While everything is great from the production design to the stellar acting it’s the action that really sells War of the Arrows. Utilizing a weapon that is seen all too little in action cinema (at least to the extent here), the film puts the bow and arrow front and centre and because of this the action really flies. From the sound the arrows make cutting through air, to the neat trick of curving arrows around obstacles to the awesome sight of a “half pound” arrow cutting up the landscape and its targets much like a gun would, the bow and arrow based action is stunning stuff. Yet it is the momentum the filmmakers inject into proceedings that makes War of the Arrows such a delight to watch. Things build nicely with characters introduced and a good bit of historical back-story dropped in (in the form of the Korean’s given the chance to “run” back to their homes and if they can survive the harsh elements of the landscape and the Manchurian arrows they can have their freedom back) but the action kicks off big time when Nam Yi relentlessly attempts to rescue his sister and then flee the pursuing bad guys. Momentum, a sense of fear and some genuinely threatening antagonists (things all too often missing from action cinema these days) propel the action to impressive heights: not least in an incredible moment where certain characters make the insane decision on how to cross from one cliff to another, in mind boggling fashion, in order to carry on pursing Nam Yi. Exhilarating stuff.
War of the Arrows is very much an action picture at heart but never looses focus on character or telling a good story. Some of the more serious minded and those who always bang on about plot this and plot that may be irked by the streamlined narrative but with so many Eastern historical epics getting bogged down in their own importance and melodrama it’s welcoming to see an epic deliver on the entertainment and action as well as the drama.
Excellent stuff. See it.