War Of The Arrows - DVD Review

'the first third sticks in the memory too long but this is a further step in a very right direction for Korean cinema, an international market force to be reckoned with'

'Korea's House Of The Flying Daggers', reads the pull quote on the box of Han-min Kim's period Adventure, War Of The Arrows, lofty comparison indeed, given how well received Yimou Zhang's film was back in 2004. Pre-film though, it's easy to believe that the statement could be true. Korean cinema, buoyed by the near-mainstream success of Joon-ho Bong is on the up. A well-produced historical piece, seen by over seven million people in its native land, could be just what the industry needed to kick it on to the next level.

Marred by a trudging and ill-focused first third, War Of The Arrows has to work hard to be that film. Kim takes far too long to establish what sort of film this is, dabbling pointlessly in slapstick style comedy to the point of including a vomit-over-face scene, very early doors. For international, non-experts on Korean history, there's also a lot of information to get your head around in a short period of time, complicated by the fact that, because this is 1636, even the geography and place names aren't straightforward. Joseon is the name of the old Korean kingdom. This little piece of information will do wonders for your understanding of what's happening.

At somewhere around the hour mark though, things start to pick up and what develops is a fairly standard, yet well-told, redemption story, with expert archer Nam-Yi (Hae-il Park) attempting to track down kidnapped sister Ja-In (Chae-won Moon), whilst the Manchurian invasion of Joseon plays out in the background. Kim's genius at this point is that his plot becomes cyclical; Manchuria invade Joseon, Joseon resident Nam-Yi chases the Manchurians, a crack squad of Manchurians chase Nam-Yi, Nam-Yi and Ja-In attempt to turn round and return home to Joseon. The competing interests and aims play well off each other, particularly the Manchurian hunting squad, who are shot - it would appear deliberately - like the Uruk-hai in Lord Of The Rings; occasional slow-motion, constant pounding feet, the look and feel of an unstoppable force.

The strong second half pulls everything together towards an emotional finale, with predictable but strongly portrayed results. There's some wibbly characterisation (it's never entirely clear whether Ja-In is a female warrior keeping quiet or a damsel in distress - she seems to change on a scene-by-scene basis) but Chae-won Moon in the lead pulls of the character twists and turns that matter, including a satisfyingly meaty confrontation, blighted only by some suspect animal effects. It ultimately lacks the polish of Flying Daggers and the first third sticks in the memory too long but this is a further step in a very right direction for Korean cinema, an international market force to be reckoned with.

War Of The Arrows is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on Monday 7th May 2012.

Look further...

'a chase drama of a very high standard, mixed in with a bit of a love story but with one vital factor: the arrow' - Every Film In 2011, 8/10

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