Coming from South Korea, War of the Arrows delivers a fast-paced action yarn with the look and setting of a historical epic. This film, from writer/director Han-min Kim, was a box office smash in its home country, taking the top spot for year’s gross. It was also a critical success garnering numerous acting accolades. It has been brought to American shores courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment. It is sure to not reach the box office and critical heights it enjoyed in South Korea, but it is one that really shouldn’t be ignored. It may not be the most authentic in terms of its history nor as visceral as it could be in its action, but what it does do is provide a pulse pounding action yarn that is somewhat reminiscent of Apocalypto.
War of the Arrows kicks off with a big action sequence. We follow Nam-Yi and Ja-In as they are pursued by soldiers and dogs. They are chased as they are the children of an accused traitor. They are nearly caught, but a hail of arrows allows them to get away. Unfortunately, their father is not so lucky, he is caught and immediately executed. It is a pretty exciting scene to start with, although I must admit to being a little lost as to what exactly was happening.
Our story jumps head some years to approximately 1636. Nam-Yi (Hae-il Park) amd Ja-in (Moon Chae-Won) are adults now, having been taken in by a neighboring king following their escape. Nam-Yi has become an excellent archer and hunter and his friend is preparing to take Ja-In as his wife (something Nam-Yi is not initially enamored with). These early scenes give us all the exposition we are to get for the majority of the film, and it is not much at that.
This movie never seems terribly interested in giving us historical context as to why these things are happening. I get the impression that we get as much in the first act as Kim feels is necessary t get th audience to care for our protagonist and get us to the action. Pretty much once the action starts it rarely lets up. nearly 90-minutes of this two-hour movie is action, suspense, and chases. This is not a bad thing.
Back to the story at hand. The wedding day has arrived and all seems to be going well until the second Manchu invasion arrives at their door step. Many of the townsfolk, including Ja-In are taken as slaves by the invading Manchu. Nam-Yi sets off on a mission to get her back with a regiment of archers on his trail.
I found that I did not care all that much about the story. Surely, I was with Nam-Yi and wished him success, but I did not really care about the historical context or who these people really were. I was much more intrigued by the breathless pursuit and the nicely done establishment of the bow and arrow as a deadly weapon.
We get some hand to hand combat interspersed through the chase bits, but the action that is most satisfying are the sniping bits. There is plenty of arrow flying action and the bloody results they bring. I admit to being pretty thrilled with a lot of the action here. It is not your standard swords and fisticuffs. The sound design goes a long way to increasing the effect as arrows whistle trough the air and bowstrings tighten in anticipation.
The ending may play a touch melodramatically, but it pays off and is a fitting end for the action and chasing that came before it. I do not think this is a great movie, but it certainly is a good one that is well worth the time.
Audio/Video. The movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer is one that finds me a touch conflicted. There is a strong level of detail throughout with nice depth of field, but there are times, especially early on where I feel it just looks a bit flat. However, as we get deeper into the movie it seems that it straightens out a bit. There are sequences with Nam-Yi running through the forest or taking aim on an enemy that look really good. In particular, I like the sequence where they have to jump across a high gap over a river. While I may have a little complaint early on, this is by no means a bad transfer. It offers very strong detail and is worth the look in high definition.
Audio is presented in its original Korean and English dub by DTS Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. The dub is not terrible, but it is clearly not the best way to watch the film. The Korean track sounds really good has nice clear dialogue and makes good use of the surrounds. There are some really nice panning effects as arrows whiz through the frame and some ic use of ambiance, particularly the wind during the final showdown.
- Behind the Scenes. A brief collection of bits from the set with the director talking about his fasination with arrows and other bits with the cast.
- Highlights. Feels a bit like an extended trailer.
- Trailers. Two trailers used in marketing the film.
Bottomline. More action movie than historical epic. War of the Arrows is a fun and exciting movie that offers up some solid tension and something I had not seen before, snipers who are archers. Definitely worth spending some time with.