Today: February 26, 2024

War Of The Arrows

It’s the mid-seventeenth century, and Korea is in trouble. Rocked by internal disturbances and then overrun by Manchurian invaders, the country’s future looks bleak.

It’s the
mid-seventeenth century, and Korea is in trouble. Rocked by internal
disturbances and then overrun by Manchurian invaders, the country’s future
looks bleak
. Only one man has the archery skills to take on the Chinese
invaders, and as the DVD blurb says ‘he must fight to re-unite his family and
prove his courage against the greatest archers’ history has ever known.’

Such is the basic plot of Director Kim Han-min‘s War
of the Arrows
. When described like that, it doesn’t sound promising, and it
seems hard to believe that such a trite tag-line could be behind Korea’s top-grossing film of 2011. How
interesting can archery be? When put in Kim’s able hands, the answer seems to
be: very.

Nam-yi (Park Hae-il) and his sister Ja-in (Moon
) are orphaned, after their father, a royal archer, is murdered in
the course of a palace coup. They go to live in the village of a trusted family
friend. As child of a traitor, however, Nam-yi remains somewhat on the fringes
of the village society, and he develops into a capable archer and independent
spirit. On the day that Ja-in is due to marry the village head’s son, Seo-goon
(Kim Mu-yeol), the village is struck by a Manchurian army attack, during
which many of the villagers, including Ja-in and Seo-goon, are taken hostage.
Returning to the destroyed village, Nam-yi sets off after the main army to free
his sister and brother-in-law. His archery skills and ability to evade capture
arouses the interest of an elite squad of Manchu fighters, led by the steely
and menacing Jyu Shin-ta (Ryoo Seung-yong), who set off in pursuit of

The film is well-paced, and surprisingly engaging, despite
the fact that it is largely dominated by chase scenes. Nam-yi’s dedication to
his sister is touching, and your sympathies for the Koreans are further engaged
by the general brutishness of the Manchu invaders and by the dramatic uprising
Seo-goon stages at one point. It is framed as a story of innocent townspeople
being enslaved by barbarian invaders, and this is effective, if perhaps
historically suspect.

Marked by beautiful cinematography, we watch Nam-yi not just
outshoot his would-be captors, but outsmart them due to in-depth knowledge of
the terrain. He, more than anyone else, is able to move unseen through the
forests, covering territory at a rapid rate. He’s even able to entice a tiger
to join his side, who dutifully eats two of Jyu’s men (It should be said this
is by far the worst scene of the whole film)!

War of the Arrows works because it is not overcomplicated.
There is an unsophisticated but engaging story-line and simply-sketched
characters. This means there is nothing getting in the way of the full-blooded
action scenes and captivating costumes and scenery. Most importantly, bows and
arrows show themselves to have the same power to thrill as martial arts or more
modern weaponry.

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