War of the Arrows (2011) – By Duane L. Martin

It’s 1623, the fifteenth year of King Gwanghaegun’s reign. General Choi Pyong-ryang, a legendary archer and loyal servant of the king, is framed for treason. Because of this, his village is attacked by the king’s forces. During the heat of the battle, he gives his son Nam-yi his bow and tells him to take his young sister to another village to live with their father’s long time friend Kim. Thirteen years pass, and under Kim’s tutelage, Nam-yi grows into a man and, using his father’s bow, becomes a brilliant archer. His sister grows up beautiful and strong, and attracts the attentions of Kim’s son, who they grew up with like a brother. Now he wants to Marry Ja-in, and Nam-yi is not happy about it, because they’re the children of a man who is was wrongfully thought to be a traitor, and it would only bring misery to him to marry Ja-in and inherit that baggage. Undaunted, the marriage goes forward, and Nam-yi leaves the village. As he’s traveling however, the ground begins to shake and a sound like thunder fills the air. The Qing from China are invading, in what became known as the second Manchu invasion of Korea. The Qing are brutal and mercilless. They invade Kim’s village just as Ja-in is marrying Kim’s son. People are murdered and dragged through the streets. Those who aren’t killed are taken captive and split into two groups. A main group is marched back toward China, and a second group of young women is split off with the division that is led by the Qing prince to be used for his sexual pleasure. Ja-in and her husband are split between the two groups, and Nam-yi is in hot pursuit to rescue his sister.

As the Qing men start dying one by one, killed by red fletched arrows, the Qing prince sends his commander and his team out to hunt down the archer and kill him. This task proves far more difficult than they ever imagined, as Nam-yi takes them down one by one in a desperate chase to reach his sister and to save as many of his fellow countrymen as possible.

I despise the word "epic", as I find it to be incredibly overused, and more often than not inappropriately so. This film however could accurately be described as epic. I’ve been seeing more and more films coming out of South Korea that could only be described as amazing, and this is definitely one of them.

The story in this film is not only brutal and unforgiving, but you’ll find yourself genuinely caring about the characters and wanting them to succeed and survive. The Qing soldiers are, for lack of a better term, civilized barbarians. Captive women are raped by their prince. Prisoners are marched mile after mile, and those who fall along the wayside, unable to continue are killed. In one scene, a baby is pulled from its mother’s arms and dropped down a well. It’s harsh, but this is the early part of the 1600’s. Things were harsh back then, and you had to be strong to survive. This film flawlessly displays that aspect of the way things were back then.

Another great aspect of this film were the performances that brought it to life. The characters had depth to them and every character was immersed in the era and acting just as anyone in their positions or situations would. That adds a level of realism to the story that can only be brought out by a brilliant cast. Everyone from the lowliest extra to the main characters all performed their roles beautifully and really placed themselves in that time and place.

The main character, Nam-yi, was played by Hae-il Park, who also starred in the 2006 film, The Host, which is one of my all time favorite monster movies. I was really pleasantly surprised to see him in this film, but he’s really changed in the last six years. I hardly recognized him. He’s lost weight and he looks a little older, and in this film he has a goatee / beard and is often wearing a hat, so if I hadn’t have read something about it being him, it wouldn’t even have occurred to me.

Another thing this film excels at are the visuals. The visuals in this film are absolutely stunning, from the visual effects, to the coloring, to the camera work, the set design and the costuming, this film’s look combined with the excellent and immersive story really make this film worthy of the term, epic.

This release from Well Go USA also includes a behind the scenes featurette, highlights and trailers.

There’s no way I could possibly recommend this release enough. It’s not often that a film comes along that leaves you feeling stunned when its over because it was just that good. This is one of those rare gems that needs to be seen, so make sure you grab yourself a copy. I don’t say this about many films, but this is one you absolutely need to see.

If you’d like to find out more about this film you can check out its page on the Well Go USA website here.

If you’d like to grab yourself a copy, you can get it from Amazon here (blu-ray+DVD) or here (DVD).