Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon (also known by the title War of the Arrows and quite a few others) is set in Korea at the beginning of the 17th century and after a reasonably short preface that introduces us to the central protagonist escaping from death, Nam-yi (Park Hae-il), the film moves forward to 1636 and the invasion of Korea by the Manchurians. Nam-yi, who was a child in the opening section, is now a displaced adult with a particular skill in using a bow, a skill that provides the unique selling point of this rather entertaining action film.

With the invasion of Korea by the Manchurians and the capture of his sister Nam-yi is on the run. Generally either being chased or doing the chasing his skill with the bow is what keeps him alive and his penchant for using a particular type of arrow brings him to the attention of the most feared group of invading Manchurians.

It is in the second half of the film, when this group and Nam-yi face off in the woods, and ultimately plains, of Korea that the film really finds its enjoyable but rather shallow groove with the almost perfunctory story taking a back seat to the all important action.

Due to the central conceit that everyone predominantly uses bows in combat (the film makes a historical sleight of hand and omits firearms from the equation) the action needs to be constantly inventive and tense in order to succeed. Luckily director Kim Han-Min achieves this with fast paced action and an attention to making the cat and mouse chases compelling by ensuring that we believe it is as much the characters’ wit as their ability that is helping them succeed.

Whilst the film delivers in pace and often in the action, it falls to pieces when it needs to rely more on the narrative and character development. The story is not at all compelling and the main characters’ lack of interesting depth makes them impossible to engage with. Also, whilst some of the action choreography and editing is spot on, the stylistic way in which large sections of it is shot is both irritating and unnecessary. Efforts to inject freneticism into the camerawork generally just rely on instability in movement and very quickly this approach becomes very tiresome. Ultimately the film is blockbuster filmmaking through and through, relying on a lot of adrenaline and not too much thought, but there is still a lot to enjoy in the Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon and when considered as simply a lightweight and entertaining chase movie it succeeds more often than it fails.


Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon was the opening film of the London Korean Film Festival on the 3rd of November.