Character development in writer-director Kim Han-Min’s thrilling War of the Arrows (Korea’s third highest grossing film this year) is economic, precise and efficient, grounding whirlwind action sequences in an emotional connection to the characters. A lavish epic based on the second Manchu invasion of Korea, the film centers on the relationship between Nam-Yi (Park Hae-II), and his younger sister Ja-In (Moon Chae-Won), whose father, a master warrior, is branded a traitor to the country and killed before their eyes. The children are taken in by a family friend who raises them as his own, continuing their education in archery but unable to remove the stigma of their being the offspring of a disgraced man. The opportunity for redemption comes thirteen years later when the Manchu brutally invade their village, kidnapping Ja-In and killing or enslaving the rest of the village, with only Nam-Yi left to save them all. From that point the film kicks into high gear with a series of bare-knuckle, cat-and-mouse fight scenes. The costumes, whether those of saloon girls or villainous soldiers, are gorgeous; the indoor sets and outdoor locations are all vibrantly shot. What makes the film work, though, is that Han-Min and his actors have fleshed out stock characters to human dimensions.

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