The Optimum Asia label has released another Korean martial arts film to follow the entertaining Fighter in the Wind earlier this year. Whereas Fighter in the Wind was an attempt at bone-crunching realistic fighting, Arahan has a more light-hearted take on the whole genre. This can be explained with Arahan being based on Korean comic style action, so do not be surprised when people start jumping across buildings and levitating!
In Arahan, director Ryu Seung-wan teams up with his action choreographer Jeong Doo-Hong from the gritty actioneer No Blood No Tears (2002). Jeong also features in Arahan as the main bad-guy, Heug-Un. The only thing that stands in his way are a bunch of ageing martial arts masters who only have one pupil studying at their school, Eui-jin (Yun So-yi). Soon Eui-jin is joined by bumbling police officer, Yoo Sang-hwan (Ryu Seung-bum) who also wants to learn the infamous palm-blast technique so he can defend himself better.
Arahan moves along with a blend of comedy and martial arts whilst being strung together by some largely irrelevant dialogue. There is no real guess work in figuring out the final showdown is Eui-jin and Sang-hwan against the big bad evil guy! The main strengths of Arahan come through the ageing but likeable martial arts masters, who form an unconventional and often hilarious support cast. The action within Arahan is clearly limited by the leads having no martial arts capability, but credit to director and choreographer for capturing something half-decent fight scenes. The big bonus point is reserved for the CGI which is refreshingly well done. The roof-top jumping is probably a weak point, but beyond that the CGI and wire-work blends well with the action. This is all supported by some fresh and hip editing and a great soundtrack to the movie.
Arahan has some drawbacks, these surface whenever it tries to pretend it is something more than a popcorn flick. The 'tension' between the two leads is a damp squib that only serves to slow down the pace of the movie. At 114 minutes, the running time is too long, and this is partly attributable to a dreary end fight that lasts well over 20 minutes. Fortunately, this does not prevent Arahan being a worthy title. Whenever it tries to be fun and exciting it repeatedly succeeds. The CGI enhanced style to this movie will inevitably draw comparisons to The Matrix and Shaolin Soccer, but the best parallel for me is with Twins Effect. Much like Twins Effect, if you pay little attention to any attempts at serious dialogue and overlook their shortcomings as martial artists, there is an underlying sense of fun that can be quite contagious!
The Optimum Asia disc includes a 1.85:1 anamorphic print, with good English subtitles and DD.51 Korean audio. There are a number of worthy extras that actually add value to this disc. These include deleted scenes, 'making of' featurette, trailers and a quirky but interesting interview about the original of martial arts movies 60's to 80's.
By the main, Arahan is entertaining popcorn fun. From the perspective of a martial arts purist this film would fall short in term of action. When this is combined with the comedy and light-hearted CGI it becomes quite appealing. This is supported by a decent disc from Optimum Asia and overall is a worthwhile package.