Stars: Hae-il Park, Seung-yong Ryoo, Chae-won Moon, Mu-Yeol Kim, Han-wi Lee | Written and Directed by Han-min Kim
In action films so often it’s all about the gun or the fist, archery has taken the back seat as an inferior way of combat. There has been a slight change lately of course with The Hunger Games and The Avengers with Hawkeye and his exploding arrows; it is nice to see that when archery is featured it’s more about skill and precision than just point and shoot. The archer is skilled and a master of his art, in warfare he could be compared to the modern day sniper, having to take into consideration things like wind speed and direction. War of the Arrows is a film that takes this to a new level, showing how the archer could be the difference between victory and defeat.
When Nam Yi witnesses the death of his father he must flee with his sister, hiding from those who would wish him dead. As he grows older he becomes disillusioned with a world that has no meaning for him, almost hiding in that belief and not caring about the world. He hides his true gift, the gift of the archer behind failure and being a loner, using his skills for hunting; until the past catches up with him. When the village he calls home is taken over and his sister stolen away by Manchu invaders he finds he must use his archery skills to save not only her but his people.
Part of the enjoyment of War of the Arrows is the way the characters are created. It has quite a slow start (after the initial action of the father’s death) as we get to know the characters. We are made to understand how Nam Yi has made a choice to give up on his life and just not care anymore; he’s the typical flawed character who needs that spark to push him into action. When he gets that spark, the need to protect his sister the true man comes out. I was impressed with the set up for his change to action hero, he’s the ultimate archer, appearing just when needed and doing amazing shots that really pull you into the action. The action scenes themselves pull you in, making you want Nam Yi to appear to save the day; of course he can’t be everywhere at once so it’s often other people who have to take the action role, which they do with as much quality as the man himself.
In the second half of the movie it does tend to drag on a little bit as the elite Manchu archers hunt down Nam Yi and try to kill him, it’s a game of stealth which means the action slows down a lot. For me it felt slightly overlong but it was engrossing enough to keep me interested in the end. Don’t get me started on the CGI tiger though that you will see appear. It’s not that bad but there are points where you notice the lack of real fur on the creature and compare the CGI to a more fleshed out moving photograph on the screen. It plays its part, but for me I would have loved there to have been more time taken on the tiger to just make it look a little more realistic. I will say though the tiger scene is a good set up, we know it’s coming because we understand how Nam Yi set it up and it’s pulled out long enough to add suspense and excitement.
Mention has to be given to the use of the wind in the film, which of course is important to archery. In the important scenes when the archers have to make the shot spot on you see the grass moving in the wind, you see the movement of the branches; you understand what is going through Nam Yi’s head. I found this emphasises really well in the film, especially at the end when it becomes even more important, to some people watching they may not care, but for me personally it added to the impact of the shots, how Nam Yi understood the wind and used it to achieve his goals.
For fans of war films, especially during the turbulent era that this film is set I would say it’s an excellent film that they should see. It’s full of action, characters we actually care about and a respect of the art of archery that make it quite unique. The name of the film War of the Arrows does give away that the emphasis is going to be on archery but there is more to it than just that, it’s a story about revenge and family and a film that you would hope would be regarded as a modern classic of its genre.