Set in the early 17th century, “War” deals with the Manchu empire at large, and the bonds of a family in specifics, as highly skilled archer Nam-Yi (Park Hae-Il, “The Host”) hunts for his kidnapped sister, Ja-in (newcomer Chae-Won Moon). The film’s initial raids and skirmishes — whether one-on-one or army-against-village — illustrate writer/director Kim Han-Min’s insistence on adhering to historically accurate violence.
In other words, prepare yourself to see an infant (albeit shown as a wrapped bundle) be tossed down a well by those malevolent Manchus. (While we’re offering “beware” notices, there's a disgusting scene in which one man rather graphically vomits into the face of another man he's pinned to the ground. And yet, I stick to my aforementioned assertion that the film is refined.)
The pot boils before reaching a final-quarter battle that exudes authenticity while rousing viewers’ spirits, all based around the exchange of arrows. There’s something inherently cinematic and poetic about an arrow whizzing by — an effect that Han-Min milks to his advantage. He makes use of the arrow-POV shots as so many directors have, but in a way I haven't seen in films before. In Hollywood films, the camera seems mounted mid-arrow or substitutes for the arrow entirely; here, Han-Min sticks it at the weapon’s tail end, so we see it bending wildly as it pierces the wind.
The effect is remarkable, as is the heightened reality of wire-fu choreography as our game’s pawns leap from treetop to treetop. Incredible action permeates so much of the work, I didn’t mind the elongated running time. —Rod Lott