The Piper (손님) – ★★☆☆☆

The Piper (손님)

The Piper (손님)

Shortly after the Korean War, travelling musician Woo-ryong (Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡) and his sickly son Yeong-nam (Goo Seung-hyeon (구승현) embark on a trip to Seoul to treat the youngster’s tuberculosis. On the journey, the exhausted pair are granted refuge at a secluded mountain village presided over by a kindly Elder (Lee Sung-min (이성민), but it quickly becomes clear that something very strange is transpiring amongst the folk residing there. Learning of the severe rat infestation, Woo-ryong boldly offers to rid the village of the vermin, yet when the residents renege on the fee and cast them out, the piper seeks a very unique brand of revenge.

Woo-ryung and Yeong-nam play for the villagers

Woo-ryung and Yeong-nam play for the villagers

Taking The Pied Piper of Hamelin as its cue, director Kim Kwang-tae’s ‘reimagining’ of the classic European fable into a Korean morality tale is a bland, fractured, and unengaging effort. Aside from some attractive cinematography The Piper consistently appears as if still in the development stages conceptually, which serves to dilute audience interest and lessen thrills – a crucial issue for a film about killer rats.

From the moment it begins, The Piper generates a sense of intrigue as Woo-ryong and son Yeong-nam hide in a secluded cave during a storm, the wind of which blows so strongly that a secret path to a hidden village is revealed. As the duo seek respite there for a day or two, suspense grows as the inhabitants appear to exchange meaningful and worried glances due to the arrival of their new guests. Yet while events are set up promisingly the mysterious nature of the film is largely a direct result of its structure and a strange sense of incompleteness. Occurrences, characters and relationships arise and recede with precious little introduction or general context making the story a rather fragmented and confusing effort. As such, audiences aren’t given any reasons to care for any of the protagonists, or even dislike the antagonists, other than the fact it’s clear a macabre secret is being hidden.

Woo-ryong develops feelings for widowed shaman Mi-sook

Woo-ryong develops feelings for widowed shaman Mi-sook

The story itself is a symbolic tale, using the microcosm of a mountain village to articulate how war, history and paranoia looms large in times of unrest and influences people into evil deeds. It’s a solid premise and one that’s full of potential, however director Kim Kwang-tae doesn’t manage to effectively convey the scope of his message. In part this is due to the fractured story and characterisation, but also the rats simply aren’t the potent menace they ought to be and are not frightening in the slightest, and though billed as a fantasy-horror The Piper doesn’t really fit into either genre, generally conforming to genial drama tropes. Furthermore, Welcome to Dongmakol and Moss dealt with similar subject matter and while viewing it’s impossible not to think of these superior examples with nostalgia.

The fractured narrative structure makes it even more difficult for Ryoo Seung-ryong to carry The Piper on his shoulders, and though he tries his best to infuse the role and the film with an infectious energy, it often translates as overly theatrical and bothersome. His burgeoning romantic relationship with widowed shaman Mi-sook falls completely flat due to the lack of development and contrivances within the script. As Mi-sook, Cheon Woo-hee – certainly the best actor in the film – desperately tries to wrangle something from the role and manages to infuse some palpable emotion in a scene here and there, yet as the audience is never given any information about her or as to why empathy should be given, her efforts are tragically wasted. Lee Sung-min isn’t provided with scenes of gravitas to make him a worthy nemesis, while K-pop star/actor Lee Joon makes blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances. The most compelling role falls to youngster Goo Seung-hyeon as tuberculosis suffering Yeong-nam, who brings a surprising amount of empathy to the story.

The villagers are hiding a secret related to the rats, but what is it?

The villagers are hiding a secret related to the rats, but what is it?

 Verdict:

Though billed as a fantasy-horror The Piper is ultimately neither. While the cinematography is consistently gorgeous and director Kim Kwang-tae’s premise has merit, the film suffers enormously from a fractured structure that conveys it as incomplete, resulting in audiences unable to engage or empathise with characters and events, or even enjoy the sporadic thrills.

★★☆☆☆

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Possessed (불신지옥) – ★★★☆☆

Possessed (불신지옥)

Possessed (불신지옥)

Living in Seoul is a tough existence for Hee-jin (Nam Sang-mi (남상미). Studying for exams during the day while moonlighting at night as a personal tutor and convenience store clerk, Hee-jin’s health is beginning to suffer from a combination of stress and exhaustion. Her usual routine is disturbed one night when younger sister So-jin (Sim Eun-kyeong (심은경) abruptly calls and leaves a mysterious message…however the next morning when Hee-jin’s mother (Kim Bo-yeon (김보연) informs her that So-jin is missing, she becomes worried and decides to return home to help with the search. Teaming with detective Tae-hwan (Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡), the duo begin to notice strange machinations and events occurring at the apartment complex, yet So-jin is still nowhere to be found.

Hee-jin feels something is terribly wrong in the apartment complex

Hee-jin feels something is terribly wrong in the apartment complex

An impressive addition to the K-horror canon, Possessed – as known as Living Death – is a pertinent example of eerily-effective and scarily-suspenseful storytelling on a tight budget. Director Lee Yong-joo’s debut is a potent mix of the horrors of religious fervour and taught claustrophobic locations that, while lacking in terms of character development and resolutions, is an accomplished chiller.

Proving that large budgets aren’t necessary to create unsettling tension and scares, director Lee instead relies on generating fear through the claustrophobic environs of a dilapidated apartment block to great effect throughout Possessed. The methods in which he produces moments of terror by exploiting the narrow confines of rooms and hallways, in conjunction with unnerving close-ups and chiaroscuro lighting, makes the film consistently disturbing and serves to make Hee-jin’s search for her missing sister all the more compelling. Thankfully, director Lee rarely employs cheap ‘jump’ scares to frighten his audience, generally taking his time to develop a sense of foreboding so that the sense of dread resonates throughout.

Hee-jin enlists the help of cynical detective Tae-hwan

Hee-jin enlists the help of cynical detective Tae-hwan

Possessed is also memorable for its chief source of horror – religious fervour. As Hee-ji and obstinate detective Tae-hwan begin to search for So-jin, they uncover an array of eccentric residents within the apartment complex each with their own odd peculiarities and ties to the missing girl. The narrative potently examines how folk who have endured difficulties turn to religious ideologies with frightening levels of enthusiasm, and the clues uncovered reveal a number of potential suspects in the case that adds greatly to the suspense.

Yet the horror film is not without issues, particularly in regards to character development and resolution which are generally lacking. This is acutely the case with Hee-jin who, aside from the fact her younger sister is missing, has very little of her life revealed. Hints are laced though the film that she has supernatural gifts although such themes frustratingly go unresolved. Actress Nam Sang-mi however gives a great performance in the role and generates enough likeable charm that it’s impossible not to invest in her story. Other resolutions, such as the apparent ‘possession,’ present certain motifs such as the elegant crane yet answers are in short supply, while the film ironically ultimately ties up all loose ends far too neatly in order to adhere to a generically satisfactory finale.

Flashbacks shed light on So-jin's mysterious disappearance

Flashbacks shed light on So-jin’s mysterious disappearance

Verdict:

Possessed is an impressive K-horror by debut director Lee Yong-joo, who uses his tight budget highly effectively to craft a suspense-filled tale of intrigue about a missing girl. Employing claustrophobic environs and a story that examines the frightening religious fervour within communities, Possessed is – lack of character development and resolutions notwithstanding – a chilling delight.

★★★☆☆

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Fantasy-thriller The Piper receives an English subtitled trailer

The Piper (손님)

The Piper (손님)

The Piper (손님) – or more literally translated as The Guest – has received an English subtitled trailer ahead of its July 9th release date in Korea.

Loosely based on the classic tale of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, the fantasy-thriller is about a father and his sickly boy who, shortly after the Korean War, find themselves at a strange remote village in the mountains on their way to Seoul. Intending to stay there only for a day before moving on, the duo start to experience surreal events amongst the citizens that leads the father to pick up his mysterious pipe.

First time director Kim Kwang-tae takes the helm, although he has previously worked as an assistant director on erotic period drama Untold Scandal and romance flick Almost Love.

The Piper also features some of Korean cinema’s incredible acting talent. With Ryoo Seung-ryong (The Admiral) in the lead as the father and Lee Sung-min (Kundo: Age of the Rampant) as the village elder, the film also includes Chun Woo-hee (Han Gong-ju) and popular star Lee Joon (Rough Play), as well as child actor Goo Seung-hyeon (The Fatal Encounter).

Please see below for the English subbed trailer.

The Piper

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The Target (표적) – ★★★☆☆

The Target (표적)

The Target (표적)

On a dark and rainy night, a shoot-out transpires in the back streets of Seoul. As a mysterious man is chased through the streets he is shot, and hit by a car. Taken to hospital, doctor Lee Tae-joon (Lee Jin-wook (이진욱) treats the man who police identify as ex-military man Baek Yeo-hoon (Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡), wanted in connection with murder. However Tae-joon’s problems are just beginning, as later that night his pregnant wife Hee-joo (Jo Yeo-jeong (조여정) is abducted, with the kidnapper demanding  Yeo-hoon in exchange for her safe return. Yet as Tae-joon attempts to hand over the fugitive, a special task force lead by Chief Song (Yoo Joon-sang (유준상) are called in, and a deadly game of cat-and-mouse begins.

Yeo-hoon is on the run, but from what and from whom are a mystery

Yeo-hoon is on the run, but from what and from whom are a mystery

The Target (표적) is a remake of critically acclaimed French thriller Point Blank (2010), which clearly must have impressed the French for the film premiered in the Midnight Screening section at the Cannes Film Festival. Quite why, however, is something of a mystery as Director Chang’s version is an extremely mediocre action film, taking the basis of the superior original and altering it to make a very competent, solid, and enjoyable action romp yet one that fades from memory with ease.

The Target begins well, setting a dark ominous tone in which the violence is located as well as for the mysteries to originate. The impressive tension continues through to the hospital scenes, where the introduction (and indeed, inclusion) of no-nonsense female detective Jeong Yeong-joo (Kim Seong-ryeong (김성령) and deputy Soo-jin (Jo Eun-ji (조은지) are a refreshingly welcome addition in a genre that is often overly-masculine, with their stern, efficient attempts to uncover Yeo-hoon’s identity and his role in the murder case one of the highlights of the thriller. Yet following a hospital breakout sequence, the tone of the film never stays consistent as director Chang attempts to juggle the abundance of characters and their respective narrative arcs, and as such the excitement begins to wane. Ironically however as the pace is generally handled well the film never becomes stale, resulting in a film that is difficult to fully invest in but entertaining nonetheless.

The situation gets complicated when Detective Jeong clashes with Chief Song

The situation gets complicated when Detective Jeong clashes with Chief Song

A similar accusation can also be aimed at the action sequences within The Target. While there are plenty of physical confrontations to enjoy, the sequences are always rudimentary and uninspired, failing to capitalise on the premise or even simply to make the film stand out from the vast number of action-thrillers that already exist. Yeo-hoon, for example, is supposedly an ex-military man with a decade of experience yet his fighting prowess rarely extends beyond that of an average man with basic training. There are fleeting moments however when director Chang is seemingly attempting to enter The Berlin File territory yet never quite manages to achieve it, and as such the action scenes are enjoyable while they last but don’t linger in the memory.

Another pivotal reason why The Target is entertaining yet tough to fully engage with is due to the large number of protagonists and supporting characters, which ultimately distracts attention away from the central story of fugitive Yeo-hoon and doctor Tae-joon. As the film continually focuses on peripheral characters and narrative tangents the main story becomes subsumed, making Yeo-hoon and Tae-joon’s uneasy alliance, as well as their quest to solve the mystery and save pregnant Hee-joo, moderately compelling and more of a backdrop to the carnage. Actors Ryu Seung-ryong and Lee Jin-wook perform their roles capably despite relatively weak character arcs, as does Jo Yeo-jeong as the damsel-in-distress, however it is Jin-goo as Tourette syndrome sufferer Sung-hoon and Kim Seong-ryeong as detective Jeong that provide the most interesting performances. Ultimately, with so many characters on screen, The Target is an amusing viewing experience, but one with little depth.

Yeo-hoon and Tae-joon must form an uneasy alliance to save pregnant Hee-joo

Yeo-hoon and Tae-joon must form an uneasy alliance to save pregnant Hee-joo

Verdict:

The Target is a remake of French thriller Point Blank by director Chang, and while he has constructed an entertaining action-thriller it’s one that fades from memory relatively easily. With competent yet uninspired action sequences, and an abundance of quality actors that serve to distract from the central story with their respective narrative arcs, The Target is an enjoyable action romp yet when that misses the mark.

★★★☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (제19회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량) – ★★★☆☆

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량)

The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량)

It would be remiss for any discussion of The Admiral: Roaring Currents (명량) not to examine the colossal achievements the period film has made. Director Kim Han-min’s (김한민) film has broken seemingly every Korean cinematic record the country has – the fastest film to gain over 10 million viewers (12 days); the most viewers on an opening day (682,797); the biggest opening weekend ($25.94 million); and the first film to attract over 1 million viewers and 10 billion won in a single day, amongst other similar milestones (source: KoBiz). To call The Admiral: Roaring Currents a success is an understatement of the highest order.

Yet the accomplishments have not come without marked criticism. Of the 2,584 cinema screens in South Korea, The Admiral: Roaring Currents initially occupied over 1,500, during a time of school vacations and oppressive summer heat. Bolstered by a 3 billion won marketing strategy by the country’s largest distributor CJ Entertainment, which combines with the biggest cinema chain CGV to form the conglomerate CJ-CGV, debates concerning the monopolization of the industry by chaebols have again risen (sources: VarietyThe Hankyoreh).

With all the success and criticism aside, the question remains – does The Admiral: Roaring Currents live up to the hype? The answer is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a resounding no. While it’s a well-made historical yarn, the simplistic script, weak characterisation and insanely – and often comically – overt nationalism detract from the film, making it less of a war epic and more of an entertaining matinee.

Admiral Yi Sun-shin returns from incarceration and toture to fight the Japanese invaders

Admiral Yi Sun-shin returns from incarceration and toture to fight the Japanese invaders

The year is 1597. Admiral Yi Sun-shin (Choi Min-sik (최민식), the most fearsome – and unbeaten – naval commander in the history of Joseon (Korea), who has been imprisoned and tortured by the very country he fought for, is finally acquitted and released. His task is not small. With only 12 ships at his command, Admiral Yi must fend off the impending invasion of  330 battleships belonging to the Japanese navy, led by pirate Kurujima (Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡) and General Wakizaka (Jo Jin-woong (조진웅). Against all odds, Admiral Yi must not only engage his enemy but also overcome the fear gripping his men, to defend Joseon from colonization in the famous Battle of Myeong-ryang.

The great strength of The Admiral: Roaring Currents lies in director Kim Han-min’s vision and incredible ability in capturing adrenaline-fueled scenes of carnage. Director Kim has already proved his kinetic prowess on the fun action-adventure War of the Arrows, yet with the larger budget and scale of The Admiral he surpasses himself to display a genuine evolution in style. Given that the Battle of Myeong-ryang itself takes roughly half of the film’s running time this is a particularly impressive feat, as director Kim uses every means at his disposal to make the conflict as thrilling, compelling, and downright entertaining as possible – and it works. Warfare is dramatically captured through a variety of techniques, from establishing shots conveying the scale of the battle and the horrifying size of the invasion, to smaller intimate scenes of bloody hand-to-hand combat and exciting quick changes in strategy. In one exhilarating long take the camera moves around the deck of Admiral Yi’s ship as he and his men clash violently with their foe. Plus, in a moment of inspired genius, The Admiral features Buddhist warrior monks cleaving Japanese forces in two, which never fails to raise a smile.

Japanese pirate-turned-general Kurujima leads the invasion...in thick make-up

Japanese pirate-turned-general Kurujima leads the invasion…in thick make-up

Unfortunately such sensibilities haven’t been extended to the script, which is generally really poor. The complexity of the period is constantly simplified and subsumed beneath incredibly overt nationalism, which is a real source of frustration. Whether it be the blinked-and-missed-it scenes of Admiral Yi’s torture at the hands of the country he defended, or the shambles of a navy that he inherits upon release, the lack of exploration of such issues really halts any audience investment in the historical figures/characters themselves. There is an attempt to add empathy by conveying Admiral Yi’s post-traumatic stress from torture as well as the relationship with his son, but again, they really are fleeting and add very little to the overall story. Instead, the film consistently strives to deify Admiral Yi, presenting him as an omnipotent saviour figure. This gives actor Choi Min-sik, who is undisputedly a phenomenal talent, very little material to work with, largely requiring him to look determined and to adopt the statuesque posture for which he is renowned.

The most obvious heavy-handed nationalism unsurprisingly appears in regards to the Japanese invaders. Visually, their costume design and make-up is frankly awful, which combines to convey them as one-dimensional drag acts sent from hell. This is acutely the case for Ryoo Seung-ryong as pirate-turned-general Kurujima, whose devil-esque costume and thick black eye-liner are laughable. The most comical moments however are reserved for the dialogue as Ryoo, on multiple occasions, is required to snarl and exclaim, “YI SUN-SHIN!” whenever the Admiral does well, inducing sniggers. The Japanese forces are undoubtedly the villains of this historical event, yet portraying them in such a simplified shallow manner undermines Admiral Yi’s achievements both in the past and on celluloid.

Admiral Yi prepares to engage in close combat

Admiral Yi engages in close combat

The Admiral: Roaring Currents is arguably the most financially successful Korean film of all time, shattering a multitude of box office records during its phenomenal cinematic run. Director Kim Han-min’s war-drama featuring revered Admiral Yi Sun-shin is nothing short of a filmic sensation. The film itself however, while a well-made historical actioner and displaying a genuine stylistic evolution by director Kim, suffers from a poor script, weak characterisation and over-zealous nationalism, combining to make The Admiral: Roaring Currents less of a war epic and more of an entertaining matinee.

★★★☆☆

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Sistar performed some of their hits and dance routines to an adoring crowd

The 17th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2012 at Haeundae (해운대) Beach

BIFF 2012 at Haeundae (해운대) Beach

While most film festivals promote themselves as bigger and better every year, the 17th installment of the Busan International Film Festival is certainly living up to the hype. With the first non-Korean hosting the opening ceremony in the form of Chinese actress Tang Wei, with the festival spread out across 10 days (as opposed to 9 in 2011), and with 132 world and international premieres, BIFF 2012 has done an incredible job in cementing itself as one of the key film festivals throughout Asia. The popularity of this years installment is acutely visible, as online tickets sold out rapidly whilst the 20% allocation at the event disappeared by mid-morning.

There were a lot of events to be had during the opening weekend of BIFF 2012. While Haeundae Beach was the host for several interviews and performances, the screenings themselves also often sported Q & A sessions with directors, producers and/or the stars themselves to an unprecedented degree in BIFF’s history. It was also common to walk into or past coffee shops and see film-makers meeting and conversing, creating a very relaxed atmosphere with their approachable demeanor.

On Friday the 5th, a private party was held for those that work within the film industry as well as journalists, while the cast of Kim Ki-duk‘s latest feature, the incredibly successful Pieta (피에타), were also in attendance.

Actress Jo Yeo-jeong co-hosts the Lotte Red Secret Party

Actress Jo Yeo-jeong co-hosts the Lotte Red Secret Party

Saturday the 6th saw two events take place. The Lotte Night Party – Red Secret was hosted by The Servant (방자전) actress Jo Yeo-Jeong and gave awards to those who had contributed significantly over the past year. Among those receiving awards were notable screenwriters and actors, including host Jo Yeo-Jeong and A Muse (은교) actress Kim Go-eun (김고은). Also in attendance were actor/director Yoo Ji-tae (유지태) and his wife, as well as Ahn Seong-gi (안성기), and former BIFF director Kim Dong-ho (김동호). Yet the most memorable event at the Red Secret party was the arrival of now-global-megastar Psy, who performed several of his hits as well as the groundbreaking Gangnam Style to a rapturous crowd.

Psy performs for the emphatic crowd

Psy performs for the emphatic crowd

The second party of the night was held by CJ Entertainment, and the style was markedly different.

Sistar performed some of their hits and dance routines to an adoring crowd

Sistar performed some of their hits and dance routines to an adoring crowd

In terms of performers parody group The Wonderboys were amazing fun as well as providing some great music to warm up the crowd for the main act – Kpop superstars Sistar. The quartet sang some of their most famous hits accompanied by their signature dance moves that had the crowd chanting their names. In attendance were a variety of people involved in the film industry including REALies president Kim Ho-seong and renowned editor Lee Sang-min. There were also a whole host of film and television stars, including the cast of period drama-comedy Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자) – Lee Byeong-heon (이병헌), Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡) and Jang Gwang (장광) – as well as TV star Kim Min-jong (김민종) and As One (코리아 ) actor Lee Jong-suk (이종석).

Actress Go A-ra was a delight

Actress Go A-ra was a delight

However a genuine highlight of the night was actress Go Ah-ra (고아라) (star of Pacemaker (페이스메이커) and Papa (파파)), who was incredibly kind, courteous and humble, giving genuine insight into the differences in working in the Korean film and television industries.

Sunday night saw the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) event, which saw fellow The Good, The Bad, The Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈) actors Song Kang-ho (송강호) and Jeong Woo-seong (정우성) attending, in addition to a myriad of other stars and members of the film industry.

And so ended the first weekend of the 2012 Busan International Film Festival. With the incredible selection of films, variety of events in which the public could have access to members of the film industry, and unprecedented popularity, it is difficult to imagine how BIFF will grow and improve in with future installments but one thing is for certain – the BIFF team will undoubtedly find a way.

Festival News Festivals 2012
Nam-e fights to save his sister and community

Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon (AKA War of the Arrows) (최종병기 활) – ★★★☆☆

Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon

Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon

Set in 1636 during the second Manchurian invasion of Korea, Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon (AKA War of the Arrows) (최종병기 활) tells the story of Nam-e (Park Hae-il (박해일) and his sister Ja-in (Moon Chae-won (문채원). Forced to watch their minister father’s brutal assassination, the young Nam-e and Ja-in flee to a neighbouring settlement with their father’s prize weapon – a bow and set of arrows – as their only asset. As they become adults, both brother and sister are hardened to life, but  Nam-e’s bitterness leads to the rejection of others. Ja-in on the other hand wishes to live a regular lifestyle, including marrying her sweetheart Seo-goon (Kim Moo-yeol (김무열).

On the day Ja-in and Seo-goon are to be wed, the settlement is attacked by a Manchurian battalion led by fearsome warrior Jyu Sinta (Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡). They slaughter any who resist and abduct the rest, forcing their captives to march north out of Korean territory – including Ja-in and Seo-goon.

Arrow is perhaps best described as Robin Hood meets Apocalypto (2006), as skilled archer Nam-e races against time to track down and save his sister and friends from the invaders. Screenwriter/director Kim Han-min (김한민) does a great job in establishing the characters through not only their childhood trauma, but also with a keen sense of comedy once in adulthood. The tension is palpable when the Manchurians attack during the wedding ceremony as the couple are ripped apart, villagers are butchered, babies are thrown down wells, and idyllic lifestyles are shattered. The first encounter between Nam-e and Jyu Sinta is also incredibly well introduced as the archer organically evolves from an annoyance to a threat.

Jyu Sinta and his warriors vow to kill Nam-e

Jyu Sinta and his warriors vow to kill Nam-e

In a film where chasing down the enemy is the focus of the story, Kim Han-min does a masterful job of making each scene as intense and thrilling as possible. The director employs a variety of techniques to this end, using various angles and styles to ramp up the tension to such a degree that the landscape becomes a character itself. As Nam-e comes close to completing his quest, and as the number of enemy soldiers decreases, the director puts a variety of obstacles in their paths that continually keeps the action thrilling and exhilarating.

Nam'e fights to save his sister and community

Nam’e fights to save his sister and community

Unbeknownst to Nam-e, the group of abductees are split into two groups. As Nam-e follows the first group, Jyu Sinta’s battalion pursues Nam-e. The first, comprised mostly of males, is sent to a river crossing; the second, consisting mostly of young females, is sent to the Manchurian prince for his pleasure. A strong sense of nationalism arises in Arrow as the captives are tortured and humiliated. At the riverside, friends and allies are murdered for sport by the Manchurian forces. In a final moment of desperation, Seo-goon picks up a sword and fights for his people and proves his years of military service. Joined shortly after by Nam-e, they inspire a rebellion against their captors and destroy the dock, halting the forced immigration. Secondly, Ja-in is selected for the Prince’s pleasure. As he attempts to assault her, Ja-in picks up a sword and fights against her fate, cutting soldiers and the Prince alike. It’s incredibly refreshing to see such a strong female protagonist, as so often women are relegated to the role of ‘pretty-but-poor-and-needs-a-handsome-man.’ While Ja-in still requires saving, her character is established as a powerful woman who will fight to the last to protect her virtue, which by extension also serves as an allegory as the virtue of Korea. Nationalism is also invoked through the constant references to ‘tiger country’ and the presence of tigers as they are Korea’s national animal.

Ja-in fights for her (and Korea's) virtue

Ja-in fights for her (and Korea’s) virtue

Verdict:

Arrow is an incredibly enjoyable action/adventure film that rises above most other examples of the genre thanks to the ingenuity of director Kim Han-min, who offers refreshing takes on generic conventions. The addition of physical comedy also adds extra enjoyment to the viewing experience. However, Arrow doesn’t quite achieve the level of sophistication that premier examples of the genre, such as The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), provide. This is generally due to the fast paced nature of the film where the protagonists must go from A to B, which stifles character development. The cynical reviewer would no doubt call Arrow a ‘commercial’ film, a label that Kim Han-min openly detests, preferring instead ‘popular’ film. The director is correct – it is indeed popular (the highest grossing film of 2011) and fun, and is well worth watching.

★★★☆☆

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