Set in the 17th century in the region where Korea and China border one another, “War of The Arrows” is part romantic drama, part family story and part historical action epic all underscored by a sweeping vision that is somehow both grand and grubby.
The story involves a brother and sister orphaned when they see their father beheaded by Chinese invaders. Years later, the sister is in the middle of marrying her longtime sweetheart when invaders – oh those invaders! – interrupt the ceremony, kidnapping the new bride. It is up to brother and new husband to chase down her captors and bring her back.
Director Han-min Kim seems to really luxuriate in the ornate period costumes, with lots of embroidery, heavy leather and swatches of fur, while also reveling in the agility and speed of the weapon of choice, the bow and arrow, which allows his camera to really move and soar. It is the storytelling that often feels off balance, as it takes an awful lot of setup to get to the essence of the action.
In its final third, “War of The Arrows” hits a strong, confident stride that builds to an extended set piece played out across a river gorge that is gripping stuff, with soldiers jumping from one side to the next and harrowing climbs on a craggy cliff-face leading to tense face-offs.
“War of the Arrows.” No MPAA rating. In Korean and Manchu with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes. At CGV Cinemas.