Chungmuro/Film Reviews
Movie Review: Bow, the Ultimate Weapon
by | February 18, 2012 | 56 Comments

There’s no time like summer for blockbuster action flicks, and this past summer was no exception. Among big-budget films like Sector 7 and The Front Line, sageuk action thriller Bow, the Ultimate Weapon (also titled War of the Arrows) reigned supreme in domestic box office sales and performed solidly at awards ceremonies. Lead actor Park Hae-il took home three best acting awards, with co-stars Ryu Seung-ryong and Moon Chae-won receiving subsequent supporting actor awards.

Bow, the Ultimate Weapon was also awarded handsomely on its cinematography, visual effects, sound effects, and overall technical achievements. And for good reason, too – it’s simply impossible to make a 122-minute chase movie engaging without extreme technical proficiency, something that writer/director Kim Han-min delivers in spades. The movie looks good, sounds great, and is executed to near perfection. There are some unavoidable misses, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do by delivering five-star, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Which all goes to say that this is a guaranteed good time.


“달 그림자” from the soundtrack. [ Download ]

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Bow, The Ultimate Weapon is set against the backdrop of the second Manchu invasion of 1636, which effectively forced the Joseon Dynasty into submission to the Qing Dynasty, making them a tributary state. In a move that ended the war, King Injo kowtowed before the first Emperor of the Qing Dynasty in a humiliating ritual that he was allegedly forced to repeat several times. It’s in the midst of this invasion that the table is set, as we see the horrors of war and the havoc it wreaked on the people of Joseon through the eyes of one village, and more specifically, one family cruelly torn apart.

Plot-wise, we’re dealing with some pretty standard stuff. Our hero’s sister is taken hostage on her wedding day by Qing invaders, leading him to take up a bow and arrow to save her, effectively becoming a one man army against – well, a real army. The first half-hour sets up the characters in broad strokes before careening into a conflict that gets more personal and urgent by the minute, leaving epic moment after epic moment. The latter half of the movie is essentially one long chase scene, but it’s handled in such a way that the tension only escalates and never ebbs, careening the movie and its audience into a startlingly quiet but pitch-perfect final conflict with only a few hiccups along the way.

Despite an unsurprising structure, the action is grounded by stellar performances. There aren’t as many deeply emotional scenes are you’d expect from a sageuk, but that seems to mostly come from the constrictions of the premise – it’s simply hard to emote when you’re being hunted. The emotions remain primal because our characters are locked in a primal conflict, so we’re spared excessive weeping or chest-thumping agony. What emotions we see are real, edited and staged in such a way as to keep the tension sky-high. Quite simply put, this is action done right.

We meet our hero, CHOI NAM-YI (Park Hae-il) as a child amidst the chaos of officials coming for his father’s head. For reasons unknown his father has been branded as a traitor, and even as children Nam-yi and his sister aren’t safe from the sword. Their father assists in helping them to escape, giving Nam-yi his own bow as well as his new sacred calling: that he must take care of his younger sister until he dies. With that, Nam-yi and his sister watch from the forest as their father is killed.

There’s an assured sense of character even from how bravely both brother and sister act, as he fights off hunting dogs in order to save her. His father tasks him with finding a nobleman named Kim Moo-shin, who takes both Nam-yi and his sister in despite all the risks involved with raising a traitor’s child. There’s an inscription on his father’s bow which Nam-yi’s new surrogate father reads: “Push like pushing a mountain, and pull like holding a tiger’s tail.”

When we flash forward thirteen years later we get a glimpse of Nam-yi’s daily life – he enjoys hunting because he’s incredibly skilled with a bow and arrow, but he’s mostly listless and sort of meanders his way through life. The weight of being a traitor’s child not only bears on his conscience but also his prospects for the future, which are grim. Because he’ll forever be in hiding from the government, the life he leads now is all he’ll have. He’s fiercely protective of his sister, the last remaining family he has, so of course he takes up the call to action when her life is in jeopardy. Besides a sometimes-foul mouth and bad temper, he’s the stuff heroes are made of.

His sister, CHOI JA-IN (Moon Chae-won) is also first introduced to us in her childhood, displaying the same spunk and fearlessness we see from her during multiple sequences throughout the film. She was so desperate to go into battle and save her father, even as a young girl, that Nam-yi had to bind her hand to his so she wouldn’t go running off. Thirteen years later, she ends up betrothed to the son of the household that took both her and her brother in.

You won’t find a hanbok-wearing damsel in distress here. Even in the moments that she’s in distress she displays such bravery that one almost wonders whether she needs her bother’s help at all. Her screen time isn’t much, but in the moments we do have with her (like in the Prince’s tent, the grand finale) we get a very real sense of who she is. And she’s awesome.

We don’t really get into her thoughts pre-marriage, as in one moment we see her groom-to-be petitioning Nam-yi for her hand in marriage, and the next she’s in wedding garb. But these are only precursor moments for what really sets the story in motion, the Manchu invasion.

Her betrothed, KIM SEO-GOON (Kim Mu-yeol) has lived an entitled life as a nobleman’s son, and first comes off as nice, if not relatively harmless. There’s a great moment in the beginning of the film that sets up the relationship dynamic between him and Nam-yi, while also serving to give us some of the dark comedy that’s interspersed throughout the film. With Nam-yi as Ja-in’s guardian he gets on his knees to ask him for his sister’s hand, an idea that Nam-yi is more than unhappy about, even though the three of them have lived under the same roof for over a decade.

It probably doesn’t help Seo-goon’s cause that Nam-yi is severely drunk, and the moment Seo-goon asks Nam-yi for Ja-in’s hand the two engage in a sword fight in a gisaeng house. Nam-yi tells Seo-goon that he’ll only get to have Ja-in if he can successfully cut him, because he worries that Seo-goon is too much of a weakling to protect his sister. “I’d rather give her to a butcher,” Nam-yi claims, and the fight ends only because Nam-yi is so drunk that he vomits all over Seo-goon. It’s so incredibly gross, but also pretty hilarious, because Seo-goon attempts to use his hat as a shield.

Who won the fight isn’t as important as Nam-yi’s acceptance of the wedding, helped along by his surrogate father’s approval. Seo-goon has some really great moments of bravery throughout the film, and his first comes when he takes up a sword against the invading Manchu, who come barreling in the middle of his wedding ceremony to Ja-in.

The visuals are striking, fear-inducing, and effective. Ja-in is one of the first to realize something’s wrong when she notices that the tea in the ceremonial wedding cup is rippling – the first chilling sign that the vast Manchu army is fast approaching. Nam-yi, who’s chosen to eschew watching the wedding ceremony in order to hunt deer in the mountains, ends up at a perfect vantage point to watch the army descend like locusts on his village. The sight of the army is harrowing, just as much as the cries of the villagers who are systematically killed or captured as slaves.

No one is safe from the marauding horde, as both Ja-in and Seo-goon are captured by ropes around their necks. Though her bravery is ineffective, the image of Ja-in brandishing her jade hair pin as a weapon already puts her into awesome territory. Seo-goon’s mother dies attempting to protect Ja-in from being dragged away, and their father meets the same fate – but once again, we get a startlingly glorious moment when he emerges, blood staining his clothes, to challenge the invaders. There’s no dearth of courage here.

The main villain comes in the form of JYU SHIN-TA (Ryu Seung-ryong), a fearsome leader of an elite group of Qing soldiers. He’s not a mustache-twirling villain (like some of the Qing soldiers prove to be) and provides a nuanced performance that’s honestly surprising to see given the constraints of his character. For one, there’s no real way to paint him in a good light, but he gets his moment to prove that there’s a human within him. Two, in order to preserve authenticity, all soldiers on the Qing side speak Manchu (their dialogue is subtitled in Hangul) – which is a feat, considering that Manchu is sixty-native-speakers away from becoming a dead language.

He has this way of looking completely uninterested even as he’s watching unspeakable cruelties that strikes fear into your heart, and I get the impression that this is all just business for him. That is, of course, until his men start getting picked off by Nam-yi’s bow, which propels their conflict into a more personal one. More than a desire to win for Qing, Shin-ta’s quest to kill Nam-yi becomes more like a revenge mission and a contest, as Nam-yi continues to outsmart him and evade capture.

The slow procession of weeping hostages is undercut by a caption telling us about the fate of King Injo, along with some numerical facts – that 500,000 people from Joseon were captured as hostages, with countless numbers dying from the abuse and the march. There’s a moment where Ja-in remains silent in a line of weeping women whose cries reach a crescendo as they look far away and see their village behind them, knowing that they’ll never return.

Seo-goon ends up separated from Ja-in as he’s led into a separate hostage procession, presided over by a cruel and merciless Qing soldier whose sport is killing. He employs a local translator to tell the people to run back home if they want to – the choice is theirs. The translator shows loyalty to his people by mistranslating purposefully, as he warns them not to do what they’re told. Unfortunately, some of the desperate captives make a run for it, and end up getting hunted down by Qing soldiers.

This gives Seo-goon his moment of great glory, as this previously unassuming nice guy lures and kills a Qing soldier so that he has a weapon in order to kill more of them. Even in the midst of all this slow motion glory, there’s a dash of dark humor as one of the Qing soldiers finds himself too short to kick Seo-goon, tipping the scales so Seo-goon wins the fight.

Nam-yi arrives on horseback, having found Seo-goon’s location by threatening a Qing soldier in the forest. He’s seen the ghost town left behind by the Manchu army, and his presence quickly becomes known to Shin-ta, who has never seen an archer like him in Joseon. Weirdly enough, the Qing soldier that Nam-yi let survive in order to send a message to Shin-ta tells the leader that Nam-yi said “killing is not the purpose of his bow.” It strikes me as a strange line, because even if that’s not his bow’s purpose, all he’s been doing with it is killing. If that line is meant to paint him in a nobler light it’s unnecessary and a little too on the nose – I certainly don’t blame him for the killing he’s doing.

With Seo-goon’s bravery and Nam-yi’s bow, the hostages have a beautiful moment in which they rise up against their Qing captors and overtake them. I get goosebumps just writing about it – it’s a small victory for sure, but a cathartic one.

Now with Seo-goon and two men from his village, Nam-yi sets off after the royal guard unit where Ja-in has been taken. Shin-ta, aware of this due to the soldier that Nam-yi left alive, drops everything in order to pursue him.

Ja-in is being kept in a line of women who she sees being dragged off, one by one, so that they can presumably be raped. The chief rapist is DORGON (Park Ki-woong), a Manchu prince who – to put it simply – is a huge tool. Next to him Shin-ta seems like a nice guy, because at least he doesn’t seem to take such joy in cruelty. We encounter the ‘bathe her and bring her to me’ trope common of villains when he chooses Ja-in as his next victim – and is even amused when she bravely grabs a sword to defend herself. He finds her will to live fun, and there’s something about the childlike quality with which he’s portrayed that makes me want to slap that grin off his face, in a good way. He clearly doesn’t see anything he’s doing as even remotely wrong.

She gains herself a temporary reprieve when she proves that she can speak Manchu, asking Dorgon to spare her from such shame because she’s a married woman. “Even your king has submitted, and you think this is shameful?” Dorgon asks her. Their dialogue is electric as it becomes clear that Dorgon finds Ja-in amusing enough to keep around, although he still orders her to be tied to a post outside until she pleads for mercy.

Ja-in wins brownie points for her spirit, and her will to fight and live comes as natural to her as breathing. It’s a nice carryover from the prologue we had of them as children, since she’s proven herself brave, if not a little foolhardy. Dorgon brings up the recurring motif of a tiger in that he’s wearing tiger skin (gifted to him by none other than his uncle, our other villain, Shin-ta), which has protected him from cold and fire… which is a nice little tie-in to the fate waiting for him.

Nam-yi and Company come upon the camp from a hilltop vantage point – and though they can see Ja-in tied up outside, Nam-yi keeps his wits about him. They’re already vastly outnumbered as it is, but nightfall will give them their best advantage. His plan is simple, in theory: capture the prince so that they can exchange him with Ja-in.

We find Ja-in back in Dorgon’s tent at night, looking determined as she wolfs down skewered meat. Dorgon finds this laughable and mocks her for her womanly inconsistency – what made her break down so easily? Hunger? Thirst? Or despair?

In a triumphant moment, Ja-in explains that her father always told her to eat before a fight, since hunger dulls the senses. “I am the daughter of a warrior,” she proclaims. “I don’t live just to live and die just to die!” She then uses the meat skewer as a weapon against the prince, only furthering the fact that she is made of epic win.

Ja-in and Dorgon have a brutal fight where the skewer ends up about an inch away from his eye. It only becomes more extreme as he tries to subdue her enough to rip her clothes off, but even without a weapon she fights with her teeth. My kind of heroine.

So when Nam-yi emerges from the shadows of the tent, having successfully infiltrated the camp, it’s gratifying to see real fear come into Dorgon’s eyes. Seo-goon comes to collect Ja-in while Nam-yi holds Dorgon and his soldiers hostage long enough to assure his sister’s escape. The death of Dorgon at Nam-yi’s hands (did anyone order roast prince?) propels us into the second half of the film. Though the entire movie has been like one long chase scene, now it’s Nam-yi on the run from Shin-ta – who’s now seeking vengeance not only for his men, but for the death of his nephew.

Because the second half of the movie is one long chase scene, there’s a great deal of effort put into keeping it engaging and interesting. All of that effort pays off, as the score keeps working to heighten the tension as Shin-ta and his soldiers follow Nam-yi by jumping from cliff to cliff, leading to the first human moment we see from Shin-ta (and one that Nam-yi sees as well). Shin-ta’s human moment affords two things: more character insight, and a way to extend their fight further because of warrior ethics.

There are some missteps, though – and one comes most notably in a deus ex machina. Though we’ve heard of tigers and tiger dens since the beginning of the movie, our hero combines his wits against the superior number of men he’s facing, left to depend only on fate and the hope that he’ll be aided in his noble quest… by a tiger, who tips the scales in his favor by attacking Shin-ta’s forces. The moment inevitably feels a little like a let down because of its sheer improbability (one can argue that the successful infiltration of a Qing encampment by four men is improbable, but that was at least based on their efforts) and the dependence Nam-yi puts on forces completely beyond his control. Also, with the whole movie looking so beautiful, the poorly-done CGI tiger just feels a little out of place.

Even though our characters aren’t under a specific ticking clock, it’s the very urgency awarded to the hunter and the hunted that makes this fight among men so compelling. The dialogue between characters begins to wane as the movie goes on, replaced by the sound of breathing and bowstrings being tightened. Nam-yi finds himself at a disadvantage against the Qing arrow, which is a heavy beast capable of splitting wood. To that effect, the conflict is closely quartered despite the inherent distance needed to fire a bow and arrow, and in lieu of a score we get more silence, all the more punctuated whenever Nam-yi readies an arrow to make a killing blow.

It’s rare that I take such notice of sound design in a movie, since that’s normally something that just washes over me and is swiftly forgotten. That’s nearly impossible to do here, where the sound is so crystal-clear in the midst of an unobtrusive score that it makes me wish I had seen the movie in theaters. Even the sound of brush crunching under Qing boots as they get closer and closer to our hero is enough to make one’s heart race, because we’re right there with him, anxiously waiting to see how he’ll overcome.

For anyone that enjoys a good hero story, action film, or sageuk (and in this case, it’s all three things rolled into one) where the plot begins and ends won’t come as a surprise. In fact, most of the plot turns within the story won’t come as a surprise either – so it’s not necessarily even how we get there, as much as how well we get there. It’s almost a mystery to me how this movie didn’t emerge as just empty action, because all the pitfalls were there waiting – with near-insufficient time to develop the characters before they’re thrust into the heat of action, and a lot of time spent while our characters are separated from each other.

I don’t have a high-brow way to explain it save for the fact that some movies just have that magic sprinkling of epic dust, and you can usually tell pretty early on when that epic dust isn’t there. That being said, while I found Park Hae-il extremely compelling, I was never as on board for his character as I wanted to be. He worked perfectly for the role and made me believe that he was a master archer, but the strong emotional tie just wasn’t there. Admittedly it’s hard to accomplish when the hero is essentially on the run from the moment one (whether from the government or from Qing soldiers), and he had long strings of silence to contend with. While I welcomed the lack of monologuing, he could have been better served with more lines. I certainly wasn’t underwhelmed with his acting, I just wasn’t overwhelmed. But maybe that’s part of the charm, in that he’s not a scene-stealer.

Moon Chae-won was my favorite find of the movie, and it certainly didn’t hurt that her character was so well-written. I was first exposed to her in Brilliant Legacy (which left no real impression), and saw her most recently in The Princess’ Man, where she was a little shaky on her sageuk feet but proved a rising star. Here, I loved every second she was on screen, and hope that her role will set a new bar for sageuk heroines. If only they could all be so badass.

And of course, Ryu Seung-ryong was great. I mentioned praise above but it’s worth repeating here – he brought an antagonist to life that we could hate without really hating, that made us doubt our initial perceptions when he struggled to save his already-dead comrade from falling down a cliff. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse when I say that so many things could have gone wrong in this movie – like Ryu Seung-ryong’s character, for instance – so everything rested on the execution.

On that note, I couldn’t help but gape in awe at some of the shots in this movie – the cinematography is excellent, and like the score, it isn’t obtrusive. I was surprised to find that director Kim Han-min’s filmography consists of only three films, none of which I’ve seen before. However, they all seem to share the same dark tone and sense of thrill, with his 2007 movie Paradise Murdered also starring Park Hae-il. I’m a great deal more inclined to keep my eye out for this director in the future, because this movie was just plain beautiful to watch.

Because of the title, and because of Nam-yi’s weapon of choice, we’re obviously ready to see a lot of bows and arrows. But I have to give props again to the execution, editing, and CGI (aside from that tiger) – because each new arrow shot remained as equally compelling as the last. To keep up a supremely long bow-and-arrow fight takes technical wizardry, as we saw firsthand with the way Nam-yi would assess and reassess his surroundings – even taking into account the direction of the wind – in order to best his opponents.

The bottom line: A riveting tale of one man’s journey to save his last remaining family member set against the cruel backdrop of war. Being an action film first and foremost, it’s not for the faint of heart – even though it’s heavier on the glory than it is on the blood and guts. That being said, there’s a lot of arrow-on-neck action, so that’s something to look out for. Beautifully shot, tightly edited, and well-acted, it’s a sight to behold and a story to be experienced. Try it out, you’d be hard pressed to regret it.


56 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. Simpli

    This looks really interesting. I usually don’t watch korean movies, but I think this will make it onto my “To be watched” list (which is getting longer). Especially since someone from dramabeans said it was good, I have to watch it.

    • 1.1 alua

      You should watch Korean movies!

      They have a LOT of good stuff.

      • 1.1.1 JoAnne

        Haven’t been disappointed by one yet…but I’ve been pretty picky so far!

        • alua

          Oh, there is terrible stuff out there too (we could bring up 너는 펫/You’re My Pet again…) BUT the reason why I think Korean cinema is worth watching is that it is really vibrant. There is a lot being made, a lot of very interesting stuff.

        • JoAnne

          Alua, I’m laughing because after I posted this I signed off to watch something…and then suddenly thought, ‘OH NO! I watched You’re My Pet and that was TERRIBLE…I should have made that disclaimer!’

          But when I sandwich that in between Always, Haunters, Rough Cut, Ahjussi (oh, ESPECIALLY Ahjussi,) Finding Mr. Destiny, Cyrano Dating Agency, the bit I’ve seen so far of Duellist…it’s no wonder I’m able to dismiss the terrible so easily when there’s so much to love! I know I’ve seen more, but these are what I’ve seen recently. Lots of horror in my past, too. I’m actually ready for a third viewing of Ahjussi, I thought it was that good. Even with the gore.

      • 1.1.2 Simpli

        I think the first korean movie I’ve watched was Tageuki, which was amazing, even though I was pretty young at the time. I’m thinking of watching The Crucible, but I’m really scared of watching it. I know I’m gonna cry my head off.

    • 1.2 C

      Watch it! I watched it on my way back to the US from Korea, and it was epic. Beyond words. This review is great in that it awakens your appetite without giving away the stuff that makes this movie amazing.

  2. jandoe

    i watched it in-flight on my way to paris and omg was so super hooked. totally recommend this

  3. snow

    is jyu shin-ta a manchu leader? cuz that isn’t a very manchu-sounding name, is it?

  4. Shiku

    Thanks for an awesome review for an already awesome movie.

  5. DarknessEyes

    thanks for the recap! I was wondering whether i should watch it or not, and maybe i will. 😀

  6. diorama

    Ooh, I loved this movie. It doesn’t make the usual mistake of war movies of focusing on big-scale action and no heart; it instead focuses on our trio of characters and how the war shapes them. I also liked that it didn’t stereotype the good vs. the bad guys – they gave a rather positive portrayal of Manchus as tight-knit bonded warriors, and our heroes are pretty well-rounded too. Uber-cool bow and arrow action and Moon Chae Won kicked ass, too – all in all, really good movie.

  7. houstontwin

    Thanks for your review! I’m a big fan of action movies, but I can’t enjoy them unless I care about the characters. Just as you said, within the constraints of the action and the plots, the characters were well developed, if not by virtue of the writing, then by virtue of first rate acting.

  8. Kenzz

    I any seem to find this movie anywhere.. Any idea???

  9. Kenzz

    Can’t seem to find this movie anywhere!! Any ideas???

    • 9.1 Mawiie

      Hope it helps 🙂

    • 9.2 john

      It’s also available with English subs at ionairTV

      I’ll probably watch it later this weekend. Looks good.

      I’d like to see Oldboy and The Good, The Bad and The Weird

      Any ideas where those can be found?

    • 9.3 midwestmz

      On the strength of this review, bought the movie. Wow! About the only word that is all encompassing, to say regarding the movie in total.

      Should you still be unable to find it for purchase, I would suggest, if you are able. This is my go to place when I am looking to purchase a lot of items that may be hard to find otherwise. This is also where I purchased my copy of the movie.

  10. 10 alua

    I missed this one at the London Korean Film Festival – I hesitated too long whether to get a ticket or not (I’m not much into action/fighting movies) and by the time I had made up my mind, all the tickets had sold out, unfortunately. Regretting my hesitation, as you said.

    But I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that I will stay in London long enough for the Korean Cultural Centre to screen it (we already know that won’t be this year, but perhaps in 2013?).

    The cinematography just looks so awesome!

  11. 11 nuri

    i know my vocabulary is limited. reading Dramabeans always makes me aware of that.

    Yet, reading your review, Headsno2, i just found out there’s so many words to say a movie is good and you manage to praise it and tell the story but not give away all of the story so i really really want to see it. thank you!

  12. 12 cv

    Awsome movie!

  13. 13 amee

    omg, the screencaps look so awesome. i don’t watch much saeguk but they always fascinate me. also a fan of moon chae won! putting it on my to-watch korean movie list.

  14. 14 Kiara

    Whoa, me like. I want to see it so bad. Love Moon Chae Won in sageuks.

  15. 15 canxi

    Definitely gonna watch this, I have a bunch of movies I have to watch (some before the Oscars!!) Crazy keeping up with all the good things coming out this year, I tell you!

    Also Park Ki Woong is way too good at playing the bad guy, man. I love him; he’s great.

  16. 16 Lotte

    I enjoyed it well enough and appreciated the directing, action and atmosphere, but a couple of things bugged me. First, when he slaps his sister because the silly little thing dared to exercise autonomy – if he was prepared to sacrifice himself for her he should respect her willingness to do the same. Even if I understand the motivation, the whole slap some sense into the overly emotional woman thing is just…ugh. Historically accurate perhaps, but still gross.

    The other thing that stopped me from properly enjoying it – and this is a personal issue – was the animal death toll, especially since the early deer hunting scene seemed a little too real for my liking. I spent the rest of the film debating whether or not I’d just seen an actual deer be killed. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt – does Korea have an AHA equivalent? When I saw it during the LKFF, Ja-in’s climactic arrow shot got a cheer from the audience, while I sat and stewed on behalf of the poor horse. Needless to say, I was rooting for the tigers!

  17. 17 shaz81

    I was lucky enough to see this at last years London Korean Film Festival and even more lucky to meet the director at the champagne reception after, the movie was breath taking an Kim Han-min is a charming man, thank you for this review bought back some wonderful memories.

  18. 18 kayana20

    Ahh is it available with subs yet and once again I need to thank everyone on this thread for giving another good movie to watch. Mr Idol is also up subbed on If you don’t watch Korean Movies please do because you are so missing out they have hits and misses but you still end up liking the movie. I know I am dying to watch Bow so reading this recap made my saturday. I hope I don’t cry too much though.

    • 18.1 momosan

      For those who have the DVD without subs (ahem!) subs are available at under War of Arrows. Back when I got it, the early English subs were fansubs, I haven’t checked the more recent versions. And yes the CGI tiger was a little sad. 😎

      Bow is a movie I made an exception for with my puppy killing rule – which states that I will bail on any movie or drama that kills puppies. In this one, the young boy is fending off attack dogs, so it gets a pass on the puppy killing rule.

      As for whether South Korea has a more or less equivalent to the AHS movie rules, the answer is – not so much. The UK and US have the strictest rules that I can think of for use of animals in movies. I do know that you can see the deer’s eyes blinking while it’s being carrying off, supposedly dead, so one assumes it was tranked. The horse falls are another question. In the US it’s long been prohibited from using trip wires and it’s far easier to use trained horses. But I do know several Asian movies have had to had scenes recut to remove falling horse scenes in order to be screened in the UK.

      • 18.1.1 HeadsNo2

        Thanks momosan. I was going to respond to the AHS issue but you did so perfectly. 🙂

        It was a little off-putting to see the deer blink in the opening scenes, and I just assumed it was dying – not tranquilized. Tranquilizing the deer makes a lot more sense. As for the horse falls, that was exactly what I thought of – a few seconds were shaved off The Good, The Bad, The Weird for depicting violent horse falls for a UK screening. It made me think of how that would fly for Bow, since the horse fall is a pretty major part of the finale. If it was done by CGI that’s great, but judging by the CGI tiger that horse looked too convincing.

      • 18.1.2 Lotte

        Thanks for answering. To be honest, even if it was in self-defence, I didn’t get over the dog-killing – I found the conclusion to be karmically satisfying for that reason alone! Re. the AHA thing, that’s pretty much what I figured, especially after Oldboy. Like HeadsNo2, the deer blinking made me think it was in the process of dying but I’d much rather believe your explanation. I hadn’t thought about the horse falls…sigh. Well, it’s probably not one I’d watch again.

        Anyway, thank you both for the informative answers!

  19. 19 Deets

    Saw it. Loved it. Got frustrated that I couldn’t discuss it because not a lot of people around me has. It saddens me that I couldnt put it into words like headsno2, but that’s talent for you. Thanks for the recap, hopefully more people will see it.

  20. 20 Noelle

    I want to see this. I can’t believe I’m gonna hate Park Ki Woong. Never thought it was possible but I’m gonna loathe him.

  21. 21 Ani

    *adds this to her To Watch List* Moon CHaewon’s character looks awesome. I’ll have to see this when I find the time to.

  22. 22 tuyettu

    Thanks a lot for the recap!

    As for the line “killing is not the purpose of his bow”, I think it prefers to the fact that Nam-yi was not a soldier who trained to kill (other people) but a hunter who trained for hunting only.

    This is a very widely used line in Chinese/ Japanese historical novels, dramas & movies, drawing the difference between real soldiers and normal martial art masters/ weapon users.

  23. 23 outofcontrol

    Oohh, I just love this wonderfully made film. My first to watch korean action movie and I am greatly impressed!

  24. 24 78446

    Thanks for the review! And ditto, Moon Chae-won was awesome! I loved this movie. Okay, maybe it didn’t have the requisite amount of emotional pull that I wanted but then I remembered this was a kickass action film, and the adrenaline rush was pumping in just fine. There was this scene I couldn’t forget though, with Soo-geun’s parents. Just when I thought she was the tight-lipped Madam of the Manor who disapproved of Nam-yi and Ja-in’s presence in their household, she surprised me by yelling out “That’s my daughter!” while jumping in front Ja-in and taking a Qing soldier’s sword to the heart. Aw, she cared. And of course that moment when Soo-geun’s dad takes his final stand, he calls out to Ja-in, “My child” before falling. Double aw.

    Yup, I’m a sentimental fool that looks for touching scenes in action movies. (And yes, I did cry when John Mclaine created that landing light for Holly in Die Hard 2. Don’t judge me.)

    • 24.1 moose

      Those scenes were so sad ): I thought that Soo-geun’s mom disliked Ja-in, too, so it was so touching to see her calling out to Ja-in. I love that the two parents saw Ja-in as their own daughter ;_;

  25. 25 wits

    Bows and Arrows is the first Korean movie I saw on the big screen. The Korean Cultural Festival had a showing at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and as you already intimated, this film should really be seen on the big screen with HD surround sound. I didi not just watch a film but had an awesome cinematic experience. I watched it again on a transPacific flight just last week, so I appreciated it more. Love, love this movie. Special mention to Chae Moon Won and Ryu Seong-ryung. Great acting alla round.

  26. 26 epyc

    HeadsNo2, really enjoy your superb writing. Are you someone we know under another name?

  27. 27 Ariel

    The action scenes are great and done to great effect but its the characters themselves and the small beats that they are allowed to show their true selves which captivated me.

  28. 28 sam

    good movie. watched it going to Korea. wasn’t expecting much, but it was very entertaining. helped with jetlag!

  29. 29 Fate

    Moon Chae-won was KICK-ASS in this movie, and it made me love her even more.

  30. 30 daniela

    “‘this movie was just plain beautiful to watch” so true <3

  31. 31 Mia

    This might sound dumb……but what’s with the shoes near the end of the movie?

    May be the version i was viewing this movie have subs that’s not very clear…… i was unable to make out what’s the significance.

    Did Nam-yi survive the arrow shot? Or did the shoe saved him or what ? But in the boat heading for home, the last shot of him, showing him with eyes closed give the impression he’s dead ??? or may be just sleeping ?

    Could someone clarify? Thanks lots

    • 31.1 everriell

      I’ll try my best to help you…hehe…about the shoe… Ja-in knew that her brother was the one who gave her that shoe on her wedding day even though he didn’t personally gave it. So she wanted to keep that shoe because it’s from Nam-yi and I think it symbolizes his blessing on her marriage. About Nam-yi, he’s not sleeping. He told his sister that they would go home that’s why Seo Goon and Ja-in brought his body with them…to bring him home…. 🙂 i hope i this helps

  32. 32 supah

    This was a terrific, heck, GORGEOUS review!
    I enjoyed this flick thoroughly, it was the complete package and more. C’mon, Park Hae-il was sexy as hell, and you know it!

    I do feel I will need to rewatch with subs, I got lost with the archaic Qing language parts, and not really a pro with Hangeul subs either.

    But yes, Kim Han-min was stellar all around. Bravo!

  33. 33 peter

    this is one of the best k-movie for me the cast and the plot are great. 😀

  34. 34 rozes08

    I have watch it twice. It simply amazing.Highly recommended.

  35. 35 bebecass

    Highly Recommend. Biggest stand out for this movie was its focus. The movie stay within its premise from beginning to end. Too many korean movies in 2011, had plots that went all over the map and lost its focus. So frustrating…., movies like Countdown, Frontline and Sector7.

  36. 36 Kiara

    HeadsNo2 Thank you so much fo the great review and for not giving out the ending. I like that its based on the 2nd Manchun invasion because it makes the ending more satisfying to me knowing that not 9yrs later they had to go through it again.
    This movie was well done from beginning to end and inspite of my weak stomach, I’m not done rewatching it. This one is an epic win.

  37. 37 John

    Heads, thanks for the review.

    I just finished watching it, a very well done action movie.

    Yeah, the tiger-to-the- rescue scene was a bit too contrived, but I’d give the film a 10 out of 10 rating.

  38. 38 Baoi

    You really need to review more movies!! Because I seems like all the movies you review are the GOOD ONES! I saw this movie on iTunes and just had to watch it. Unfortunately, it was my movie marathon starter and all the other movies that i’ve seen just could not compare.

    I am in love with this movie and the cast and characters. 😀 One great movie to watch. Thanks for the recaps!

  39. 39 Brenda

    I stumbled upon this movie on Netflix one day and only took notice of it because I was still on my Moon Chae Won high from The Princess’ Man. . and boy was I impressed.
    I’m normally not patient enough with movies (ironic that I can’t sit through an hour and a half movie when I gorge on k-dramas for days on end), but this movie captured my attention as soon as I hit play.
    I was thoroughly impressed with the story-line and the acting. I found myself jumping out of my seat when the invasion began and hyperventilating when I saw the adopted father die and when Seo-Goon stepped up to fight so that at least one of the captives could get to safety.

    I thought that the antagonists were so well written, especially Shin ta and his relationship to his team. As brutal as he is as a commander, he’s just as loyal as a companion. The way he held onto his dead comrades hand to keep him from falling off the cliff made me feel bad for them and when his mute companion screamed out for the first time before taking an arrow for him almost broke my heart. Most of the time, we can just blindly hate the antagonists, so it was nice to see antagonists that we could, not necessarily sympathize because of what they were doing, but feel for.

    Above them all, I was so impressed with Moon Chae Won’s Ja In. I loved her through her little moments as a child, and the minute I saw her pick up a bow when her brother was out shooting at the targets, I instantly fell in love with her because I knew that I could expect something spectacular from her. And she of course, impressed me with her small screen time.
    The way she stood up to the prince had me cheering for her success and my heart just about jumped out when I saw her attempt to kill him with that skewer.

    Overall, a great movie to watch and enjoy!
    Thanks for the review!!

  40. 40 Mel

    Watched this movie because of you! I was hooked, loved the cast… Am a MCW & PKW fan… Thanks

  41. 41 judepps

    I might be late to express my thoughts on this drama because i just done watching it.. I can say nothing but all hell praises to this movie..

    I love the story..It was one of the Best Film I’ve ever watched in K-film. Its a shame that it didn’t made it as one of the top grossing film in the K-film list.

    I just can’t stop recommending it! A definitely must watch film!

    Thanks for the recap..your recap made me watch this movie..and I listed all the movie you’ve recap to my watchlist..

  42. 42 Beez

    10 Stars! Well, HeadsNo2 mentioned the lack of character development for our lead, and she’s right – but I felt it played exactly in the right pocket as a child of a traitor, he has no place in society, no room to develop his own character/personality growing up as he knew he had no future other than as a drunken nobody because society has no place for him. And that’s who we see. A man who, until called upon to fulfill his promise to protect his little sister, has only his memorial to his father (the archery and witness of his death) to haunt him for the rest of his life – that’s all he was and the film reflects that.

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