March 11, 2012

War of the Arrows: History and Archery Shoot a Pointed Arrow to Your Heart

I'm not sure why the idea of watching a historical drama tends to dishearten me because when I think about it, I bet I like them more often than I don't. Looking back over the years, I can immediately name a few epics set way back when which made my annual top ten lists: The King and the Clown, A Frozen Flower, Musa - The Warriors... Even so, I was ready to be bored to tears when I sat down to watch War of the Arrows. Boy, was I wrong.

Kim Han-min's anything-but-dull drama set in the 17th century is, for all its fancy robes and bedazzled leather, a heart-stopping action pic with an extended chase scene in which bows and arrows prove every bit as thrilling as martial arts or souped-up weaponry ever did.

On the run is Nam-yi (Park Hae-il), a disgraced archer whose father was beheaded for being a traitor, and whose sister Ja-in (Moon Chae-won) is, at one point, abducted by a Manchurian kidnapper-prince (Park Gi-woong) who wants to tame her like a leopard's pelt. Well, the royal rapist is about to learn not to mess with an independent woman with a strong set of teeth. As to his invading militia, they're about to pay the price for underestimating members of the Joseon Dynasty.

Pursuing Nam-yi is a bald Machurian commander (Ryoo Seung-yong), his second-in-command Wanhan (Lee Seung-joon), and their small posse of fellow warriors who despite tricked up arrows and studded leather armbands, find themselves dropping off one by one. A random tiger that comes out of nowhere doesn't help matters for them either.

Although half of War of the Arrows is consumed by this great chase, my favorite part comes right beforehand -- an uplifting scene in which a feudal lord's son (Kim Mu-yeol), assisted by lovable sidekicks Gang-du (Kim Gu-taek) and Gab-young (Lee Han-wi), leads a prisoners' revolt against the invading army. Tired, dirty, and unarmed, the townsfolk charges their captors and through sheer numbers and unstoppable fury drive the enemy into the sea before burning the Manchurian flag. It's one of those common man against the oppressor feel-good scenes that always makes you feel more optimistic about being one of the hoi polloi.

Note: Some reviews accuse War of the Arrows of plagiarizing Apocalypto which does make me want to see the latter movie.

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