Sunday, June 10, 2012

Yesterday watched a kick-ass Korean movie by the name of War of the Arrows, also known as 최종병기 활. It was pretty sick!

So the story takes place back in 17th-century Joseon (which was made up of the countries we now know as North and South Korea). The Manchus are invading Joseon and are up to all sorts of heinous acts such as kidnapping people and making them slaves, but they messed with the wrong small town! Because in that small town lives the BEST ARCHER IN KOREA! The film follows the exploits of Nam-yi, a man who, as a boy, was hunted by the government for being the son of a "traitor" (Joseon history was ... complicated -- many Korean dramas on that subject!) despite his father's being a scholar-official (or yangban) who apparently served the king with the utmost loyalty. At the beginning of the film Nam-yi escapes from his father's residence with his sister and stays with a friend of his father's. He practises with his dad's bow until he and his sister grow up and he becomes a super-archer. Fast forward a bit, and during his sister's wedding Manchus start trying to invade Korea (this was not long after Manchuria had managed to destroy the Ming Dynasty and take over China as the Ching Dynasty, which ruled for over two centuries). Nam-yi's sister gets taken prisoner and it's up to Nam-yi and his sister's new husband to save the day and fight those pesky Manchus.

Darn Manchus ...
The film has some intense, well-directed action scenes featuring forest bow-and-arrow battles that are won by strategy and cunning. The sets are quite minimal and the cinematography is spot-on, featuring lush forests and barren steppes. It's a really solid film! The actors all perform well, playing believable and strong-willed but still very human characters. I even found myself feeling sorry for the bad guys at times because they were so well developed. Another awesome thing is that the Manchurian characters actually speak Manchurian dialect! How cool is that!? I don't know how many people speak Manchu dialect these days, but its pretty awesome that the filmmakers were able to get someone to write a bunch of the script in it. I love attention to detail. The action is solid, featuring tasteful slow-mo and masterful examples of deadly archery, but always seems to manage to stay within the realm of the possible.

Girls gotta play too!
When I was in Korea last summer, this film had just come out and seemed to be breaking box-office records, which is quite rare for a period film. I really wanted to see it 'cause it looked AWESOME. However, my Korean was pretty terrible in those days and there were no subtitles for me to read, so I was lost. In hindsight I probably could have just watched it anyway and asked my girlfriend at the time if I couldn't figure out what was going on, but whatever. Now after seeing it, I'm certainly glad I got around to it. Seriously, check this out if you can!

So here's a little tidbit. Apparently the historical Korean weapon of choice is the hwal (translated "bow and arrow"), which seems to be a variation of the short bow. This explains why Korean swordsmithing didn't reach the meticulous levels of quality found in traditional Japanese katanas (swords). Archery is still quite popular on the Korean peninsula, with a number of classes available in high school and university archery clubs and for seniors. It's cool! In Joseon times the Korean bow was used for hunting, warfare and possibly even as a musical instrument at parties (I'm not making this up!). Anyway, check out this movie!!      


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