Story: An old man (Jeon Sung-hwan) and a young girl (Han Yeo-reum) live together on a fishing boat on the ocean.
Ten years ago, the man took the girl on his boat and promised her to marry her, the day she gets 17. This day is
now very close.
To make his living, the old man takes fisherman on his boat and allows them to fish, furthermore he foretells them their future. Those who get too close to the girl, the old man chases away with his bow.
One day, a man goes aboard and immediately falls in love with the girl, who also seems to lose her affection for the old man and therefore replies the young man's love.
Just before the marriage, the old man seems to lose his wife-to-be, and even his bow doesn't seem to be enough to chase away his rival…
Review: "The Bow" is a peaceful, ruminant, poetic movie. The entire story takes place on the old man's boat. The
vastness of the ocean simultaneously creates a feeling of isolation, warmth and safety. This duality, runs through
the entire movie. The movie title, for example, refers to both, the bow as a lethal, destructive tool, and as a string
instrument, with which the old man can produce delightful sounds. Good and evil, black and white, yin and yang - one
can't live without the other. Of course, this symbolism centres in the movie's massage, which actually is not very
easy to get, but more about it later.
The most interesting about Kim Ki-duk's work (he already provided us with similar movies like "Samaria" or "3-Iron"), is of course the relationship between the two leads. The most striking aspect is, that the two characters do not have names and never talk either. Not necessarily something new for Kim's work, but with this trick, he manages it again to create an extreme intensity and tension. In addition, the two leading roles brilliantly succeed in portraying all emotions with only one look or a small gesture. Well, there is more to communication than meets the eye/ear!
Even if we are shocked at the beginning, that the old man actually treats the girl like a prisoner and seals her off the outside world for her entire life, we soon have to find out, that the girl actually is happy this way. Of course, you think you are happy, if you never had the chance to see something else to compare this life with.
The old man's love seems very selfish and the way he educates his foster daughter, by keeping her away from everything, just aims at marrying her one day. But the girl's love, as well, seems to be more than just paternal love.
As already mentioned, "The Bow" is full of symbols. For one thing, there is this target in form of a Korean flag, or a walkman, which is the girl's first contact to the outside-world. On the boat's side, there is a Buddhist picture, on which the old man shoots arrows, while the girl moves in front of it. This very strange way of foretelling the future is not only full of tension, because the girl's life is at stake, but also portrays the trust both have in each other.
As the young man finally says what we all think, and blames the boat-owner to treat the girl like a prisoner, everything gets even more complicated. The girl finally seems to rebel against her foster father and to protect the young man, because he showed her a new form of love. At the same time, the emotions between the two boat-habitants are still there.
But Kim Ki-duk doesn't make it easy for the audience by just creating a love triangle, but instead makes you fight with yourself. Because nobody seems to be right. Even if the girl is kept on the boat against her will, there are no accusations. Due to the fact that we also see the movie through the old man's eyes, it shows the complex relation between the two boat-inhabitants in a neutral way, as the girl could actually be very happy with both, the young man and the foster father. But despite all the effort, the viewer can't help it; he develops some sort of natural dislike for the old man.
In terms of the picture, "The Bow" stays very simple, but exactly this makes the movie visually very impressive. The symbols (which are never used in a forced way), the use of ruminant music, the peaceful performance of the actors and the always-present ocean, make the movie somewhat spiritual, poetic and even extramundane. But at the same time we never question that the movie actually takes place in our world.
Unfortunately, the end stays some sort of questionable and you won't be fully satisfied. But this is typical for Kim Ki-duk's movies, as the viewer has to reflect and make his own interpretation.
It is Kim's main goal to explore all facets of love and along the way we luckily will be confronted with some very provocative messages.
If you happen to have a weakness for Kim Ki-duk's movies, as such, then "The Bow" will also satisfy you. Everyone else should at least give it a try. If you've got nothing against drama with some sort of slow going, you could become a Kim-fan, even if "3-Iron" would be more appropriate for starters.