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Original Title:
Arahan jangpung daejakjeon

South Korea 2004

Martial Arts, Comedy

Ryu Seung-wan

Ryu Seung-beom
Yoon So-yi
Jung Doo-hong
Yun Ju-sang

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Story: Sang-hwan (Ryu Seung-beom) is a more or less featherbrained policeman. One day as he chases a purse thief, he's accidentally knocked out by a "Palm Blast" from Eui-jin (Yoon So-yi), who was chasing the thief as well. She takes the unconscious Sang-hwan to her father Ja-woon (Ahn Sung-kee) who is a high member of the "Seven Masters". Opening Sang hwan's meridians, he discovers that the policeman has an extraordinary strong Chi power. Ja-woon wants to take him as a disciple, but Sang-hwan refuses the offer.
As a local unimportant crook beats up the policeman, he finally decides to be Ja-woon's disciple. This way, he also has the chance to see the good-looking Eui-jin again.
In the meantime, Heug-un (Jung Doo-hong) happens to be freed from his ancient prison. He is one of the "Seven Masters" and has chosen the dark side, a long time ago. Now he sets out to find the other Masters to get the "Key", which would bring him back his previous power and enable him to seize the dominion of the entire world. But Ja-woon knows how to train his two top-disciples, Eui-jin and Sang-hwan, so that they can finally take on Heug-un...

Review: "Arahan" is an interesting genre-mix of martial arts and comedy with a lot of special effects added. Nothing new after movies like "Volcano High", but definitely better in its presentation and more importantly: quite entertaining!
Story-wise it stays more or less the same. The stupid defenseless boy is trained to become the ultimate fighter, and that's exactly when the Big Bad Guy turns up. Of course, there are one or two twists, but all in all, it's obvious that the story is only the fundament for the numerous fights and jokes.
It is not astonishing, but rather appropriate that the plot takes place in a fantasy world, especially if you take into consideration that the movie is based on a Korean comic from the 70's. So: Fasten your seat belts! And enjoy this marvelous movie, fully packed with special effects!

As we get introduced the main character for the first time, we just don't want to believe that we have to hold on to this moron for the rest of the movie, as he really becomes a nuisance. Fortunately, the martial arts training makes him more self-confident and also a bit smarter. For whatever reasons... So up until then, the focus is on the gags, which works pretty well: E.g. the old masters, reflecting on the training in the hills, which isn't as it used to be anymore, for nowadays it only consists of eating and meditating and maybe 3 hours of real training; or the sign in the training room, which, for some good reasons, prohibits "Palm Blasts" inside the house. One gag after another, and the story, though not very imaginative, always stays interesting and in action.

The fights actually start pretty late, namely almost not until the second half of the movie. During the training-sessions in which Sang-hwan and Eui-jin perform a form, you can sometimes see, that the two actors are no professional martial art fighters, but nevertheless Jung Doo-hong shows very good work in his choreographies. You get to see both, fast sword fights and fights without weapons.
Jung Doo-hong, who's also playing the bad guy, is very well known for shaping the hard, boxing-like fighting style, which is so typical for Korean movies. Therefore, he was responsible for the action scenes of numerous blockbusters like "Silmido" or "Public Enemy".
In this movie, to the delight of many martial arts fans, he concentrates on Chinese martial arts. The mixture of Wushu and Tai Ji really is a feast for the eyes and especially the fast, excellent editing, is pretty impressive.

In addition there is a 15 minutes climax, which depicts the absolute highlight and really kicks ass! Especially the very long scenes, in one single shot, are just marvelous and show that the actors tried very hard to make sure that the fights look as realistic as possible. Well, you can't say realistic because you've rarely seen as much wirework and slow-mos as there are in this movie. In some ways, all this reminds of "Matrix" (why always this comparison...) but at the same time, it is just stylish. Even if (in my opinion) a bit less might have worked better.

In terms of acting abilities one shouldn't expect too much of this fun movie. Ryu Seung-beom, btw. being the director's brother, portrays his change from idiot to world-saviour, pretty good, and newcomer Yoon So-yi, as the cool power-women, is quite convincing as well. Hopefully we will see some more from her in the future, as her fighting skills are quite good. And she's not that bad-looking either, if you know what I mean...
In the first part, Ahn Sung-kee plays the lead and is the most convincing, even if his role gets a raw deal. Jung Doo-hong shows his martial art skills, whereas his character is not that multi-faceted. None the less, it is quite interesting to see, that he in fact he isn't such a bad guy, but only wants to bring peace to the world. As his blade stabs one of his former brothers, we see that he still bonds very much with him.

All the levitating, the "Palm Blasts", telekinesis, etc, demand a lot of CGI effects. Surprisingly, those do look pretty believable. So, the budget can't have been that bad, either. In addition, there are also some very beautiful shots, such as the short fight in countless water fountains, or the last fight in general. Here, the perfect camera moves provide the appropriate dynamic.

"Arahan" is a special movie, as it knows how to combine comedy with serious fantasy-martial-arts-action. Movies like "Matrix" (it's the last time I'm making this comparison, I promise) are getting teased as Eui-jin jumps from rooftop to rooftop, or even "Back to the Future" gets his way into the movie, as at the end Sang-hwan competes against Heug-un, with an improvised hoverboard. By means of a lot of slow-mo, great fights and a quite western look, even viewers besides Asian-fans, are definitely going to enjoy this. No wonder, that the DVD has been released even here in Germany.

An excellent genre-mix, which can give you some really good laughs, and was produced very good. The director Ryu Seung-wan, delivers great work, which makes no secret of only wanting to entertain. So who cares, that the story is just average and that the characters stay two-dimensional.
Both, friends of stylish action and comedy are definitely going to have a good time with this movie.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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