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[HanCinema's Hall of Fame] "Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon"

2013/11/02 | Permalink

In the Spotlight this Week: "Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon" by Kim Han-min

Finding historical shards embedded in modern myths makes for compelling cinema, those nuggety kernels of truth that somehow make the illusion of the dream that much more Real. In "Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon", director Kim Han-min's fourth world in his filmic multiverse, we are teleported back to a troubled time in Korea's history; specifically, the Second Manchu Invasion (1636 – 1637) where the Kingdom of Joseon was under heavy military and political pressures from their tiresome Qing neighbours. Many period yarns are prone to taking liberties (creative archeologically shortcuts) when conceptualising and producing stories attempting to navigate historical truths; comparatively, however, "Arrow" is the most popular recent addition to the genre that was able to successfully conceptualise the era without changing the course of history. Historically accurate or not, one piece of archival evidence that will be clear to future gravediggers is that this unearthed gem was a massive success (7.4 million admissions) that became the highest grossing Korean film of 2011 AD. And would have been top overall if it wasn't for Bay's epic third instalment (7.7 million) in the "Transformer" series.

"Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon" tells the heroic tale of one highly skilled marksman and his yielding of that power for the sake of those he holds dear. Nam-I (Park Hae-il) and his sister Ja-in (Moon Chae-won) were forced to flee from their home after royal guardsmen killed their father. Years later, as adults, the siblings find themselves on the verge of a family marriage, but the pesky Qing   interfere and take Ja-in away from the happy future she was once on track for. Our bow-yielding hero skilfully tracks the Qing's army's progression, taking men out one by one until the head of the invading pack (Jyu Sinta played by Ryu Seung-ryong) decides to put a stop to this rogue agent of chaos that's been plaguing his procession. The stakes are high and the action relentless as "Arrow" gorges on the aesthetic divinity of the arrow in flight, watching it warp under pressure as it heads towards, and in search of, justice and freedom. The film climaxes with an iconic duel between these expert bowman/strategists, a highly satisfying crescendo that was met with great praise by both the industry and audiences.

Kim's efforts in "Arrow" were heavily petted at a number of award ceremonies that same year including the 48th Grand Bell Awards (Best: Actor, New Actress, Visual Effects, and Sound); the 31st Korean Association of Film Critics (Best: Cinematography, Visual Effects); the 32nd Blue Dragon Awards (Best: Actor, Supporting Actor, New Actress; Technical Effects Award, and Box Office Audience Award); and the 9th Korean Culture and Entertainment Awards (Best: Actor, Actress; and Grand Prize for Acting). It was, indeed, a whirlwind of year for Kim's "Arrow" and its cast, a historical event that saw its name chiselled into the record books; books that currently have this fierce feature listed as the 16th highest grossing Korean film of all time.

"Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon" is an action-packed and juicy gem of a film that struck a bow-bending balance and flew both long and true. It spent eleven weeks soaring around the top ten, and its commercial success even prompted a quickly released 'director's cut'. There is definitely something pleasurable here for everyone, and if the overall energy of the piece doesn't grab you directly, Nam-I's greater quest to save and honour his family will campaign honestly for your attention. Those who are perhaps somewhat unenthusiastic about diving into Korea's past through film will find "Arrow" an easy consort to break that barrier, a tight-lipped musing that still retains many of the time's truisms and spirit. Filmgoers that enjoyed "Arrow" will also be excited for Kim's next feature "Battle Of Myeongryang" which should be visible off our bow any day now, so get ready for history one way or another.

- C.J. Wheeler (


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