Thursday, June 28, 2012

NYAFF ’12: War of the Arrows

Sure China invaded Korea, but it was all for the sake of greater regional stability.  The year is 1636 and only an unemployable archer with an attitude problem stands between Joseon and an army of Manchurian invaders in Kim Han-min’s War of the Arrows (trailer here), which screens tomorrow during the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival.

Choi Nam-yi and his sister Ja-in should not be alive.  When their father is wrongfully branded a traitor, they barely escape to the home of his lifelong friend, who raises them in secret.  Unable to live a productive public life, the grown Choi becomes a sullen slacker, wasting his life with his Falstaffian cronies.  He only excels at one thing: archery.

In contrast, his sister has fallen in love with Kim Seo-goon, the son of their protector.  Believing they can lead a normal existence together, Kim has convinced his parents to allow their marriage.  Unfortunately, the Qing army happens to choose their wedding day for their invasion.  They only make one mistake, scooping up Choi’s sister and new brother-in-law along with the rest of their prisoners.  Somewhat put out by this, Choi dogs the returning Qing forces, becoming a guerrilla army of one.  Of course, the trail of arrow-impaled bodies he leaves in his wake attracts the attention of an elite company of archers led by the seriously hardnosed Jyushinta.

A commanding screen presence, Ryoo Syeung-ryong makes quite the villain as the relentless Jyushinta.  He seethes with authority and projects a quiet sense of menace perfect for his role as the Qing commando leader.  While Park Hae-il’s Choi lacks a similar gravitas, he is a convincing action figure, letting the arrows fly as he careens through the forest.

War is one fierce archery film.  Those who considered Hawkeye the biggest take-away from The Avengers are in for a treat.  This is warfighting at its most personal level.  Though already available on DVD, it is the sort of film that should be a blast to watch with an appreciative NYAFF audience when it finally gets an overdue New York ovation tomorrow.  Well worth seeing on a big screen, it would have also made a good 3-D fixer-upper (unlike say, Clash of the Titans), considering how many projectiles come flying out towards the audience.  Like the best action historicals, War of the Arrows is both high tragedy and a total blast.  Enthusiastically recommended, it screens Friday night (6/29) at the Walter Reade Theater as part of the intrepid 2012 NYAFF.