Story: During the coup of a new king in 17th century Korea the boy Nam-yi has to bear witness of his father being killed.
With his little sister Ja-in the boy flees to a friend of his father where he grows up during the next years.
Thirteen years later Nam-yi (Park Hae-il) has become an extraordinarily skilled archer like his father was. But since he has to keep his family background secret he sees no meaning in life and takes comfort in drinking. When his friend Seo-goon (Kim Mu-yeol) asks for the hand of his sister Ja-in (Moon Chae-won) he has to learn letting her go after initial discontent. As the wedding party progresses the Manchurians invade the country, though. Ja-in is taken prisoner and dragged into the north as are countless other Koreans. With the bow of his father in his possession Nam-yi picks up the trail of the invaders. But the powerful general Jyushinta (Ryoo Seung-ryong) already knows about their pursuer and his extraordinary skills with the bow. A bloody duel between Nam-yi and the general commences.
Review: What exactly are you supposed to expect of a movie that has a Korean archer in the center of its story? When the movie
was also a true surprise hit and is even hyped overseas you can't help but to expect an overrated action flick. The actual surprise comes after
the first half hour into the movie. "War of the Arrows" is in fact a very well made action movie which ingredients may be very familiar but which
also manages to make the adrenaline level rise in the viewers' veins far more efficiently than other historical dramas. A little bit of drama
brings us closer to the characters but it's more than anything else the action that made the film successful even overseas.
The first minutes with the shaky camera work make you expect a cheaply produced historical movie. However, this first impression is wrong. There may not have been a huge amount of money at hand, which is pretty much obvious considering that most part of the movie plays in the wilderniss, but the camera work proves to have its strength during the action scenes. The neverending chase between Nam-yi and the Manchus soon gets more hectical and full of tension thanks to the shaky pictures. Even though I normally have something to criticize about this kind of camera work it is actually a means to an end here and fits perfectly into the movie. During scenes where it isn't necessary the director also shots his pictures with a steady hand after all.
Very nicely implemented is the use of the bow as the primary weapon in the film. Not only do you seldomly get to see something like this, director Kim Han-min ("Handphone", "Paradise Murdered") also proves a very keen eye for details. This includes the drawing of a bow, which also creates a certain tension in the viewer, concerns the different sorts of arrowheads and ends with the very well implemented sounds of buzzing arrows. The deadly aspect of the bow, which can take a man's life in the blink of an eye, gives "War of the Arrows" an intensity that you don't get to see often. Apart from that you also feel that there is something pure and tranquil about archery, even if the director never shifts the focus on the spiritual effect of archery directly.
What "War of the Arrows" succeeds in especially well is building up tension. With every minute that passes the movie knows how to raise it further. Like a bow that is slowly drawn more and more. And towards the end this bowstring/tension is held for a while before the arrow is let loose. After that everything is very soon over, but that's also the reason why the ending proves to be so good. We get a bit of drama but thankfully the film never becomes a corny tear fest but instead stays true to its overall tone. That's why the ending is even the more moving. The fight in the wilderness between Nam-yi and Jyushinta along with his men is very well composed, the different tactical advantages of the terrain are made use of and often enough the role of hunter and hunted is reversed.
The character elaboration may seem negligible in the film, but at least director Kim put in enough effort for us to hold our breath when things revolve around the fate of the individual characters. Park Hae-il ("Moss", "The Host") cuts a fine figure as an ancient Rambo who doesn't care about anything anymore and therefore becomes even the more dangerous. However, there still proves to be something he is afraid of losing - his sister Ja-in, also played appealingly by newcomer Moon Chae-won. Doing an especially good job as the villain is Ryoo Seung-yong ("Children") who shares an unusual rivalry and respect with his enemy Nam-yi. Along with the nice shots of nature, the nerve-racking hunt and the archery this makes for an extraordinary mix which is why all the way through until the credits roll "War of the Arrows" is an exceptionally thrilling movie experience.