Korean Movie Review – War of the Arrows (최종병기 활)

Directed by Kim Han-min


122 minutes

After watching “My Way” and learning a thing or two about Korea’s past, I wanted to see another period piece that covered a different era in Korean history. I have always been interested in some of the Joseon period dramas on Korean TV (well, I think they are; I don’t have a clue what they are saying), which led me to Kim Han-min’s “War of the Arrows.”

Initially, I was attracted by the frenetic trailer and interesting costumes, but then I found out that the film won awards at several major Asian film festivals, primarily for acting and cinematography. Also, the film was the most-watched Korean movie in 2011, and the second most-viewed in theaters overall. Unfortunately, the number one spot went to a $200 million advertisement for toys: “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

Set during the second Manchu invasion of Korea, the film opens during a ferocious battle in which a young Choi Nam-yi and Choi Ja-in are forced to watch their father beheaded and branded a traitor.

Thirteen years on, Nam-yi, now a skilled archer and hunter, is sworn to protect his little sister and finds it difficult to accept that she is to be married.

On the day of the wedding, the Qing army invades Nam-yi’s village and take thousands hostage, including Ja-in and her fiancé, leaving the rest for dead. Nam-yi takes it upon himself to track down the Qing army, eliminating them one by one with his exceptional archery skills. His search leads to a bloody battle with the deadly leader of the Qing army, Jyuu Shin-ta, who is just as skilled with a bow as he is.

I mentioned I was initially drawn to the film because of TV dramas, and for the first 20 minutes the film had the look and feel of one. That means it looked cheap with below-par acting (which is ironic considering the film won several acting awards).

But once the Qing army enters the fray, the film moves up a gear and turns into a very exciting movie with some great moments of action and tension. In particular, a scene where the Qing army tricks its captives into committing suicide, and the Sergio Leone-inspired finale are particularly nail-biting. In addition to that, watching a shoot ’em up with bows and arrows instead of guns was an interesting, refreshing change that totally worked.

If you’re a historian, there isn’t too much to learn here, but as an action film, it’s well worth two hours of your time.

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