Han-min Kim’s historical epic War of the Arrows (2011) is the blood-spattered and thoroughly enjoyable tale of the Manchu invasion of Korea in the mid-17th century. Skilled archer and hunter Nam-yi (Hae-il Park) embarks on a one man guerilla war against the Qing Army who murdered his step-father and kidnapped his sister. Utilising his proficiency with the bow he stalks the soldiers through the countryside but the tables are turned when the Qing commander Jyu Shin-ta (Seung-yong Ryoo) decides to hunt Nam-Yi through the undergrowth.
Fans of Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004) will be in familiar territory with War of the Arrows, which features beautiful choreography, breath-taking action and a suitably rousing score. Everything works together in harmony and the director’s own inventive ‘arrow cam’ is one of the highlights of the show.
What does let Kim’s historical epic down, however, is tits plot. The potential was clearly there to explore the real history behind the invasion and give the audience a little context, but the director seems more interested in action rather than storyline. This is fine, but more discerning viewers might start to drift after they’ve watched the 100th arrow flying through some poor soul’s neck.
Much of the second half of the film involves Nam-Yi being chased through the foliage pursued by Qing soldiers, and those of you who caught Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto (2006) might get a feeling of déjà vu. In fact some scenes are so similar you wonder if Han-min Kim should have given Gibson a writing credit.
Overall, War of the Arrows hits the target, but you are left with the impression the missiles have all been fired before. Still, it will make a welcome addition to fans of this brand of Asian cinema’s collection.