War of Arrows

This one screened on the Sunday afternoon of The Dark Bridges Film Festival 2012.  I must say that nearly all of the imported films from Korea I’ve had the chance to see have all been quite good, and War of Arrows is no exception. 

I expected the movie to be more of a historical war epic, but really this is more of a straight forward action film that happens to take place in a historical setting.  The film is set during the Second Invasion of Manchu, when China invaded Korea in the early 1600's. The focus is on the guy in the poster above, Nam-Yi who, along with his sister Ja-In, is forced to flee to a loyal friend of their father's to hide out when he is killed. The movie does take its time throughout the first hour or so with these two characters as children and then when they are young adults, but it’s necessary to set up the drama later on and the motivation for the characters. Thegood shit really starts in the second hour though when Ja-In is kidnapped and Nam-Yi must go after her, with only his skill in archery as his weapon.

What’s cool about this movie is that it is probably the only time I can say that all of the action is more or less confined to shoot outs with bow and arrows.  In a way you can almost liken it to a western where one lone hero has to face off against a group of villainous bandits and gets into a bunch of shootouts, but this film changes up the setting and replaces the pistols and rifles with axe bladed arrows blasting through tree trunks and near super human arrow combat accuracy and speed.  So yeah, it’s pretty good stuff.  Apparently this movie was the highest grossing movie in Korea in 2011 second only to Transformers: Dark of the Moon which grossed a couple hundred thousand more in box office receipts.  It’s a good movie, but reading that prior to seeing it might have set my expectations for large set pieces and epic scale too high.  This movie does not have those things.  If anything, you could possibly compare it to Apocalypto, especially how you have the protagonist on the run from a group of elite soldiers, but this movie was definitely more on the stylized end of the spectrum and the scale smaller than that film even.

Like pretty much all Asian action efforts the action is filmed pulled back and clear at all times.  This is especially important here since you need to follow guys shooting arrows at each other from a distance a lot of the time, and I could see that getting really confusing if they’d have resorted to up close shaky cam shenanigans (who’s arrows was that again?).  You get some gore when it’s needed, it’s definitely an R rated type of action on display, but I wouldn’t call this film especially gory or anything.  But the action is cool and I dug how they’d often zoom in on how these guys would hold their bows, and their arrows, and all the tricks of their fingers and wrists to pull off Wanted style curving shots and cool shit like that.

The film has that steely grey washed out color palette that seems to be common for films from Korea (or at least the ones I’ve seen).  The cinematography is very nice with a good majority of the film taking place in nicely shot forests and the wilderness settings. The costumes are pretty elaborate, and I assume period accurate as well, so even during slower moments the movie is always visually engaging.

So yeah, not much else to say, I liked it.  War of Arrows isn’t going to change your life or anything (maybe if you’re from Korea it’s a different story, I dunno), but it’s an entertaining action movie in a historical setting.  If you liked movies such as House of Flying Daggers, Red Cliff or even the most excellent Tae Guk Gi (my favorite Korean war film) you’ll probably dig on this.  Check it out!