War of the Arrows
Studio: DCG Plus, Dasepo Club
Formats: DVD, Blu-Ray (Reviewed)
Release Date: October 24, 2012
Price: $34.95 – Available Here
War of the Arrows is a South Korean historical action film starring Park Hae-il, who most notably featured in 2006’s The Host, whose success has warranted a sequel (currently in production) and inspired a planned American remake. War of the Arrows was first released in August, 2011 and has won a total of 14 awards, including numerous best actor nods for Hae-il. The film finally made it’s way onto Blu-Ray this past October in Australia under Madman’s ‘Eastern Eye Asian Cinema’ label. Does the release hit its target? Read on to find out.
The film begins on a chase scene, so right off the bat, you get a feel for the pace and tone of the rest of the story. Choi Nam-yi (Park Hae-il) and Choi Ja-in (Moon Chae-won), brother and sister, are fleeing from guards as it is revealed that their Father, an officer of King Gwanghae, has been branded a traitor. Now, what wasn’t too well established from the get go is that the film is set during the Manchu invasions of Korea in the early 1600s. In knowing that, you’d discover that King Gwanghae was dethroned via a coup. Then all the pieces start to fall into place. A bit of a neglectful start, but really the only sore spot of the script.
Oh, so everyone thinks they can be an archer now…
The siblings escape, but not unscathed as Choi Nam-yi fends off a vicious German shepherd after witnessing his Father’s death in an ensuing battle. I should point out that, for any animal lovers out there, this film may not be for you…especially the opening 7 minutes of it. Of course, no animals were really hurt during it’s making, but if it were higher profile, PETA would certainly have a field day. Anyway, Kim Mu-seon takes the children in, and time flashes forward 13 years. Nam-yi has becomes the best archer in Joseon and Kim Seo-goon (Kim Mu-yeol) is asking him permission to marry Ja-in, his Sister.
Nam-yi is over-protective and refuses, however Ja-in goes through with the marriage plans regardless. But, on the wedding day, while Nam-yi is up in the mountains hunting deer, he and the rest of the village feel a rumble. The Qing army has arrived, beginning the second Manchu invasion of Korea, slaughtering many and capturing the rest…including Ja-in and Seo-goon. And so begins Nam-yi’s quest to find them, release them, and get revenge in the process.
You’re wedding day is about to be ruined…if only you knew!
Further description would enter spoiler territory, but let’s just say that I never would have expected an action film to keep my interest with the bow being the main weapon used. There is some sword play, but the recent trend of bow-and-arrows being a primary, showcase weapon continues, and with great effect. The action is tense, and the pacing throughout is brilliant. The acting is solid across the whole cast and although the script may have it’s usual moments of melodrama, I was enthralled with Nam-yi’s journey from start to finish. A great film with some dramatic action sequences.
War of the Arrows looks stunning in its 16:9 (actually 2.35:1) widescreen, high definition Blu-Ray transfer. The image is vivid, sharp and detailed. The colors are accurate and the black levels are great. I was really pleasantly surprised by how consistently phenomenal the picture is.
The Manchurian ‘Mangudai’ siege unit.
In terms of cinematography and visual editing, I didn’t like the disorienting slow-motion blur of the film’s opening scene. I know it was meant to evoke that sense of disorientation and panic, but I didn’t feel it was necessary at all and just looked ugly at times. I also couldn’t help but scoff at the poor special effects of the tiger in the third act. It really stood out like a…well, like a poorly, digitally superimposed tiger! Although I’m sure it was 100% digital. Otherwise, the film itself was shot very well.
The audio on this Blu-Ray is very good, and is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0.There is an English Dub, however I’d be lying if I said that I gave it more than a few minutes worth of a listen before going to the default Korean language track. This isn’t because it was particularly bad, but I never watch foreign films with English dubs. If you’re really too lazy to read subtitles, then ok, but otherwise there’s no reason for it. Expectedly, Korean and English are the only language tracks with English being the only option for the subtitles.
You should see the “half-pounders” used by the Qing great commander Jyuushinta!
Sound effects are mixed in perfectly with the whizzing of a passing arrow panning as expected. It really adds to the immersion of the film, and the soundtrack is also very fitting in its mood building for each scene. In regards to the sound-editing of the film itself, there were a few moments of silence that felt out of place and like they were just there to be artistically dramatic. Also, there were a few errors in the subtitling and inconsistencies with the translation itself between common scenes in the film and the extras. These are all very minor points, however.
War of the Arrows’ special features list is so bare, that the English dub was added to it just to make it seem meatier. It’s the only aspect of this Blu-Ray that disappoints. Out of the four (real) special features, three of them are in standard definition. The only one that isn’t is the International Trailer, and, let’s face it, no one watches the trailers on home media releases. The Original Trailer is a worse, uglier version and the Highlights are just pointless…I have never seen a home media release feature highlights from the film itself. What’s the point? There is none. Most frustrating is the fact that the Behind The Scenes feature – which could have been the saving grace of the set – is 4 minutes long. There are brief moments of insight, but 4 minutes is just not long enough to learn much of anything.
Trust me, all that armor…does diddly squat in the film.
I’ve always been a fan of South Korean cinema, and War of the Arrows is a great example of their film-making prowess. Usually on a smaller scale, the South Koreans like to tell personal stories on a more intimate scope and level. But War of the Arrows proves that China isn’t the only Asian nation that can pull off an action blockbuster. The transfer on this Blu-Ray is beautiful and crisp and the audio is well mixed and clear. If it weren’t for the abysmal extras, this Blu-Ray would be near perfect. However, to experience the film itself is worth the purchase.