review by Seraph

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Jackie meets Chow meets Korea...
Arahan (Urban Martial Arts Action) is the first Korean martial arts/action film I have seen come close to not only the sense of fun displayed in HK cinema such as the movies of Chiau Sing Chi but also the action of Jackie Chan. That isn't to say it's better, just that it at least takes what is good about the Action/Comedy genre's and places them in a film which manages to A: actually be funny and B: have decent action. It's a popcorn movie with no pretensions of being anything else. What's perhaps more impressive is the fact that it's director (Ryu Seung Wan) had only made 2 movies previously. 'Die Bad' which was made over a period of three years on digital camera and only cost $3000 and 'No Blood, No Tears' which had a higher budget and was a kind of 'Thelma and Lousie' meets 'Pulp Fiction' with the action of 'The matrix.' He truly is a talent to look out for.

'Arahan' is about bumbling cop Sang Hwan (Ryu Seong Beom) who, after a strange and very deadly (in martial arts) girl (So Yi Woon) fires a 'Palm Blast' at him, wakes up surrounded by the Seven Masters of Tao. They tell him that everyone has an inner Ch'i, a life force which gives you extreme powers (running on walls, floating in the air, firing a palm blast) and that his is the strongest Ch'i they have encountered. In fact he may be the last hope for the secret underground society of the seven masters. GASP!!!

Right from the offset it is clear that director Ryo has many influences both in directors and movies themselves and there are some very clever nods to other films and many genres. Most noticeable though is Stephen Chow's 'Shaolin Soccer.' The familiar story of underdog makes good and the over the top comedy/antics and wacky CGI/action make 'Arahan' an obvious comparison. This is a very good thing (Hey if you're going to emulate something Chow's 'Shaolin Soccer' is not a bad movie to choose). Though it is certainly of the more broad variety, Arahan's comedy is actually quite funny and never crude and certainly put a smile on my face. Where Arahan really excels though is in it's action. Although some scenes do use (Very well done by Insight Visual) CGI to enhance action, e.g.: Running down the side of a 50 story building or jumping over said building (funnily parodying the Trinity 'Matrix' pose) most of the action is filmed and performed at a very skilful level with only a little wire-work. Both the hero and villain (Doo hong Jung, who is also the action director) get to face each other twice in the movie and these scenes are exciting, to a certain extent realistic and also not too dissimilar to most of Jackie Chan's earlier HK efforts, e.g.: Police Story, Operation Condor.

After the exciting opening action (the aforementioned running down the side of 50 foot buildings) the movie sits back a little to indulge in both comedy and informing you of the history of the Seven Masters and going on to show Sang Hwan training with them and his (possibly) blooming romance with one of the masters daughters, Wi Jin. In fact apart from the training scenes there is NO action again within the first hour. This could seem annoying to those who come to the movie simply for said action but it does give the audience a chance to get to know the heroes and villains and let the director make some nice use of parodying other movies. I however, knew the action was coming and was happy to wait for it.

Really. there isn't a lot more I could tell you about this film. This is a short review but it's just one of those films that, although very enjoyable, doesn't have a lot of substance. Is it the best movie ever? No. Does it all lead to anything interesting? Not really. Is it one hell of a fun ride? The answer would be a resounding YES. This movie is a pure popcorn action flick with some neat visual flourishes a smattering of CGI and comedy and humour that isn't distasteful. I found 'that' to be a nice change.

All in all, Have fun, or don't ... it's your choice.

I rate it 7/10

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Product Title : Taegukgi
Artist Name(s) : |Shintaro Katsu
Language : Japanese
Duration : 120 minutes
Reviewed by Paul (Seraph) - November 2004