Netflix Instant Theater: War of the Arrows

Hi, guys, Vince here. I know you miss Morton Salt’s weekly DVD column, as do I, but he’s busy trying to sell his house and there’s just no way for me to cover that column AND still have time to write news and reviews. BUT, we do have Adam, who’s been begging to cover lesser-known Netflix movies for a while now. So please, enjoy his inaugural column. He had to chug so much of Burnsy’s bong water before we let him do this.

It’s been a long road for me between writing this and getting it up here on Filmdrunk, so please allow me a moment to bask in this. Ah. Anyway, for this week, we have the 2011 Korean action film, War of the Arrows, because Korea’s bringing the f*cking heat when it comes to action movies lately. Yes, it’s got subtitles. The movie is a period piece, set around the mid-17th century when Korea was invaded and occupied by China (again).

My god, emos have gained time travel.


The main character, Nam-yi, and his younger sister, Ja-in, begin the film as young children, being pursued by…people with dogs? It’s never really explained who’s after them; although with their red robes and big, pilgrim-style hats, I like to think it was the Spanish Inquisition. I certainly wouldn’t expect them.  Either way, the two are saved by their father, who sacrifices himself to save his children from the Spaniards, giving his son his bow as a final gift. Years later, Nam-yi’s sister is being married to a city official, and the boy’s become something of an archer extraordinaire himself. The wedding is disrupted by the Chinese invasion, and Ja-in is kidnapped.

This is the first thirty minutes in a two hour movie. The rest is Nam-yi’s quest to regain his sister, aided by his two sidekicks and his sister’s betrothed; a badass swordsman in his own right. Hindering their escape is the equally badass Chinese general, Jyuushinta, and his holy-shit-how-are-there-so-many-badass-people-in-this-movie retinue.

If in that last paragraph you’ve thought, “gee, he feels like this movie kicks a lot of ass,” then you’ve had the most underestimating thought of the century. This movie doesn’t just kick ass, it curbstomps it then fires an arrow through the back of its skull. If Enemy at the Gates and Behind Enemy Lines asked a Korean lady to be the surrogate mother for their gay lovechild, this would be the result, minus Owen Wilson’s punchable face snarking up every screen minute. Instead of a track-suit clad Serbian pursuing our hero, it’s seven armor-clad Manchurians that can run forever. And everyone is a f*cking sniper.

The physics are slightly ridiculous, as is typical of Asian action fare, but you probably won’t care. It never feels TOO over the top or cartoonish, but then I’m not sure what would qualify as outlandish in a cinema market that regularly has people flying. Part of that has to do with how they set you up for it. The very first death in this movie is a German shepherd (not entirely sure how accurate that is) chasing the protagonist and his sister. Their father shoots the dog in mid-air with an arrow, but it might as well have been a howitzer the way that dog went flying. Nam-yi can curve his arrows, a la Wanted, but it doesn’t seem nearly as retarded because he doesn’t just sling his bow to the side as he fires it. The general has arrows with a half-pound tip, which act like RPGs the way they blow trees apart (but sadly no one explodes when hit by one). And if nothing in this paragraph has you digging through your streaming service looking for this movie right now, then I don’t know what else would sell you on it. It’s ridiculous enough to be awesome, but not enough to turn off anyone but the most hardened realism lovers.

As for pacing, this movie is slow(ish) for the first half-hour, but that’s just the set-up for essentially an hour and a half chase scene that never stops. The rest of the movie is pretty minimalist to make way for the action. Director Kim Han-min (who’s first directing credit is 2007’s Paradise Murdered, which is probably the greatest title of anything ever) treats dialogue with the disdain of Michael Bay, but thankfully he retains enough knowledge to know when it’s necessary. Just like the titular weapons, everything in this movie is pointed and direct; there’s no room for waste. This is pretty much the antithesis of Tarantino here. No one opens their mouth to talk about the 17th century version of Madonna or the best way to skin a tiger.

The only thing I have against the movie is the minor moments in which it tries for brevity. Nam-yi gets into a drunken fight with his sister’s suitor at a brothel, then vomits all over him. And the two sidekicks mentioned earlier often act the part of the clowns. It just felt unnecessary. They’re the man nipples, not serving much of a purpose, but it’d be kind of weird if they weren’t there. Finally, there’s a pretty cheap looking CGI tiger considering the budget they were working with. It’s like someone remembered this was supposed to be in the movie in the last minute. Plus it’s Korea; you’d expect more of their animation departments, like an Irishman that can’t drink very much. I didn’t find the beginning too slow, but I wouldn’t argue with anyone if they did.

Overall, there’s nothing about this movie that you won’t enjoy, unless you can’t read while you’re also trying to see things. This is a balls-to-the-wall ride that takes a bit to crank itself up the hill, but once it hits the top it keeps moving until the very end. And there are plenty of arrows through the throat to keep you happy. This movie is well worth your instant queue.

 FINAL GRADE:  The Spanish Inquisition