Released on the 30th April via Cine-Asia, this is billed as Korea?s first epic archery action movie. Directed by Kim Han and winner of numerous international film awards ?War of the Arrows? certainly features some epic archery. But first, the plot:
?Orphaned as a child, Nam Yi overcame tragic loss to become the most accomplished hunter and archer of his generation. When his beloved Korea comes under attack from Chinese imperial forces, he returns from the forest to discover that his sister, and only living relative, has been taken into slavery by Manchu invaders. Now faced with the most daunting challenge of his life, he must fight to reunite his family and prove his courage against the greatest archers? history has ever known?
With a massive 7.5 million tickets sold in South Korea, and 11 awards to its name, you might be mistaken for thinking ?War of the Arrows? is a perfect slice of Asian action cinema?but sadly it isn?t. Don?t get me wrong, there is a lot to enjoy about this movie, and the archery (both real and CG) is stunning. But, alas, like so many so-called epic movies, this film is a game of two halves. The first half, setting up the story and introducing the characters, is dreadfully slow, ponderous and chock full of pointless verbiage. The opening scene has been shot using a handheld technique which, unfortunately, hasn?t had the benefit of basic image stabilisation and as such is extremely difficult to watch. The film quality also varies during the opening scene (possibly for artistic reasons) which also detracts from the viewing pleasure. Which is a real shame, as this opening scene, with its ?kids in peril? theme and copious amounts of swordplay and archery is the most exciting thing to happen in the initial 40 minutes.
Let us move on from the tedious and, frankly, overlong opening half and get to the nitty gritty. About half way in the Manchu invaders attack our hero?s village and kill and pillage and generally destroy the peace of an otherwise dull and lifeless wedding ceremony?huzzah! From here on out the film lives up to the hyperbole: ?Plays like a John Woo film with bows and arrows? (Neo). It really does. The invaders capture the villagers and march them off as slaves towards China, and our hero (in typical redemption for past misdeeds style) races after them, dispatching Manchu bad guys with a variety of kick-ass archery moves. But it isn?t plain sailing for our hero?he gets his fair share of arrows aimed at him, some with ingenious arrowheads. Director Kim Han uses a mixture of real and CG archery, but revels in some quite exquisite physical body effects. This is old school and new school FX coming together in happy unison. On a film like this you really need to feel the weight of the action, the heft of bodies hitting the ground and the closeness of the arrows?and boy do they manage it here. There is, quite simply put, some astonishing action sequences in the second half of this film. Sure, the plot is still simplistic and obvious, you are never shocked by what comes next, but you will be pleased with how it appears on screen. And this is no quick rescue either, our hero and his accomplices have a heck of a battle on their hands, and a great deal of death to wade through.
So, is the film worth buying, especially on Bluray? While I really didn?t enjoy the first half of the film, the wait for the second half was well worth it. While you can skip to the best bits, it does have some redeeming reasons to watch from the beginning (even though you?ll be wishing the film to get a move on at times). The bluray transfer is certainly beautiful (once you get past the strangely filmed opening sequence) although some of the handheld camerawork does mean action scenes are shaky, fast and hard to follow. The beautiful scenery and the superb FX all shine through, and the use of sound is fantastic. The film is in Korean with English subtitles, and the disc features commentaries, galleries, a making of showcase and a behind the scenes feature. In the pantheon of modern Asian ?epic? movies, it doesn?t quite live up to the likes of ?Hero?, and it isn?t quite as epic as ?Brotherhood?, but it certainly achieves its aims to be an unapologetic love-song for the age of bows & arrows. I?ve not seen a film like it before, and pacing/plot problems aside, I would be very happy to watch the film again (and look forward to the next film from the same team).