Genre: Korean Period Drama
Nam-Yi, orphaned son of a traitor is a dispirited slacker who's only talent is his skill with a bow. When his sister Ja-In gets married to a local aristocrat, Nam-Yi is ready to leave his old life behind and take off...
But then a Manchu army overwhelms their city and Ja-In is hauled off into slavery. Can one man with a bow fight past an entire army to rescue his sister?
I picked this one up on a whim. I'm no great connoisseur of Korean cinema but I've liked most of the films I've seen, especially the historical stuff.
Turns out that War Of The Arrows is a bit of a gem.
After the initial bloodshed that costs our siblings their home and family, things slow down a bit to establish who these people are. For a while it looks like we might end up watching a period drama about a young man rebelling against his adopted family, but then the Manchu army shows up and things get interesting.
The way the tension builds up for the assault is fantastic. The increasingly alarmed Koreans realising that something is wrong: the oncoming Manchu closing in for the kill; Nam-Yi desperately trying to get back. All slotted together for maximum impact.
We also get out first chance to see the unit of Manchu warriors that will be the primary threat for Nam-Yi and holy crap, they are badass.
Grim-faced commander Jyuushinta is particularly fearsome and manages to radiate cold, brutal efficiency with the simplest gaze.
Eventually Nam-Yi and allies manage to catch up with the Manchu and rescue Ji-An and this is when War Of The Arrows went from being something I was enjoying to a film I was totally caught up in.
The chase sequence that follows,with our hero scrambling to stay ahead of the implacable Jyuushinta and his men. is every bit as good as Apocalypto It's tense, fast-paced, inventive and had me on the edge of my seat.
The climax itself is equally tense but in a different way. I won't spoil it, except to say that I don't think I've ever seen a film with archery put to such dramatic use.
There's one particular scene that smacks of Deus Ex Machina and is also hampered by some average FX but otherwise War Of The Arrows is a well-crafted piece of cinema that I enjoyed immensely.
If you prefer your Asian period movies minus improbable wire-assisted leaping about then this film might work for you.
And if you have a curiosity about Korean archery, well, pick it up and take some notes.