Friday, August 24, 2012

2012 KOFFIA Review: War of the Arrows (Han-min Kim, 2011)

I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Opening Night of the Korean Film Festival in Australia on Wednesday. The event was incredibly well run, and it is a tribute to Artistic Director Kieran Tully and the team of KOFFIA volunteers for getting this year's festival - which features a fantastic line-up - off to a great start. The film, War of the Arrows, commenced just after 6.30pm at Dendy Opera Quays with quests offered an assortment of alcoholic rice drinks and delicious canapes in the foyer. The introductory speeches were heartfelt and inspired and we were also privileged to a beautiful traditional dance performance.
Set during the second Manchu invasion in 17th Century Korea, War of the Arrows is an exciting action epic focusing on a brother and sister, Nam-Yi (Park Har-Il) and Ja-In (Moon Chae-Won), who are forced out of their village at a young age when it is invaded by the Manchu as a result of accused treason against their father. The seek refuge at a nearby town and are taken in by their father's friend. 

Jumping forward thirteen years, Nam-Yi is now an elite archer and hunter and Ja-In is set to marry the son of the man who took them in, Seo-goon (Kim Mu-yeol). With Nam-yi out in the mountains during their wedding ceremony, the Qing army invades the village, Ja-In and Seo-goon are captured and many villagers are slaughtered. Learning of their capture, Nam-yi sets out after the army, utilizing his superior bow skills to take out his enemies one by one in a desperate attempt to save his sister and ends up being pursued by Qing commander Jyuushinta (Ryoo Seung-ryong) and his warrior squad.

This is an energetic, intense and action-packed film and edge of your seat entertainment. It is brimming with chase sequences, skirmishes and incredible arrow take-downs. On commercial release in Korea it became a box office hit. Forming one long chase sequence, there is an unrelenting series of back-to-back action set pieces that continue to evolve and change with the landscape. A pumping score maintains the heart-pounding intensity, and the pace of the film is quite exhaustively up-tempo. Watch out for the thrilling struggle on the side of a cliff, and a climactic Mexican Standoff. 

Though the film started out slow and took some time to become engrossing, some of the skirmishes are extraordinary. They do take some work to process, because they are at times erratically shot and over-edited, and become a little repetitious (the film is a tad too long), but it will remains an important blockbuster in Korean cinema and will surely be influential within the genre for years to come. 

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