The story begins in the heat of a battle – Manchurian barbarians are raiding a mountain village – where a young boy, Choi Nam-yi (played by Park Hae-il), tries to keep his sister, Choi Ja-in (played by Moon Chae-won) safe from all of the danger. Quickly, they’re both rescued by their father, who implores his son to raise his sister as if he were her own daughter, before the elder archer is killed by the forces destroying their home. The siblings flee, and they’re soon captured and taken in by a community of men and women. There, they find safety and grow into adults, with Nam-yi becoming a skilled archer and his sister destined to wed Kim Seo-gun (played by Kim Mu-yeol), the son of the group’s leader. However, the Manchurian invaders eventually strike again, destroying the city and taking everyone hostage except Nam-yi, who escapes but soon arms himself with his deadly bow to rescue his people from the forces of evil.
WAR OF THE ARROWS is brilliantly structured. It combines popular textural elements of myth and fairy tale, feeling at times as though the story may’ve been lifted from a story book, and sets those elements up against the harsh, grim reality of born out of foreign occupation. The innocent are captured, their spirit broken, their villages destroyed, and the victors play incessantly torturous tricks on them, dashing all of their hopes of finding peace or complacency again. As an audience, you cheer their inevitable comeuppance once our hero sets his lone bow against theirs, becoming a kind of unstoppable, medieval ‘Dirty Harry.’ All he wants to do is save his sister, but, before it’s all said and done, he’s liable to save an entire people from being destroyed. Along the way, he finds a few companions, and, together, they brave the odds to put right what’s been torn away from them. It’s the kind of film that’s best seen with a crowd – a collective experience to hiss at the scoundrels and cheer on the heroes.
Well Go USA’s presentation is sharp and crisp as the colors pop and there’s very little grain to distract from the entire film. There’s a sequence with a short action sequence involving a tiger (a narrative ‘loop’ from a part early in the film’s story to later events) that involves some less-than-stellar CGI composition that could’ve used another brush or two from the special effects department, but it’s a forgivable sin as any reasonable person can understand and appreciate the danger of having a live animal attacking live actors onscreen. Also, I think it’s worth noting that there’s some exceptional editing throughout WAR; the pacing – especially during the action sequences, of which there are many – is superb and tight. Additionally, there are some unique tricks with sound worked on the film’s track – the film is replete with sequences involving several archers – that keep the viewers interest and elevate the storytelling to accomplished levels.
Sadly, the disc comes with very few extras. There’s a short, basic ‘making of’ snippet – it plays out like a featurette and doesn’t really offer any revealing information, feeling more like an ad piece. Given the fact that the story deals with moments of history between Korea and Manchuria, I would’ve liked to have known more; sure, I can always Google or Wiki some additional information, but it would’ve been nice, at least, to have some basic direction of where to begin researching some of this period on my own as I’m a history junkie when it comes to stories tied to history like WAR OF THE ARROWS is. Better luck next time, producers! Give us more than just an A+ story! <snicker snicker>
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to share that the kind folks at Well Go USA provided me with a screener copy of WAR OF THE ARROWS for the purposes of completing this review.
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