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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 36.36%
Average: 4.55%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 10 user ratings

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by Chris Parry

"Crouching Matrix, Hidden Kill Bill... The best movie I've seen this year."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I only went in because the film I wanted to see was classed as a 'gala screening', and thus had a $50 price tag attached. A South Korean martial arts comedy wasn't exactly my mood for the evening, but I had seen a few very particular phrases in the festival program page devoted to Arahan that made me think it might be a decent second choice... phrases like "Korea's answer to Sam Raimi" and "unashamed popcorn movie." It only took 12 seconds to realize that I'd found something special. Arahan is, without any hesitation, one of the finest, funniest, most action-packed, well-written, yet totally mainstream Asian films I've seen - period.

Sang Hwan (Ryu Seung-Bum) is a bumbling cop... Now, don't start rolling your eyes just yet. Yes, I know, every Asian martial arts film has a bumbling cop, but credit me with a little more taste than to fall for a Jerry Lewis routine like it's the second coming of comedic Christ.

So Sang Hwan is a bumbling cop who finds himself on the wrong end of a showdown between a motorcycle-riding bagsnatcher and a seemingly superhuman 7/11 clerk. The register jockey in question, Eui-Jin (the gorgeous Yun Soy) runs down the sides of buildings, leaps up walls, and has a subsonic 'palm thrust' move that sends a wave of energy at... well, a general area, kind of near where she actually wants it to go but usually not quite on target. And it's one of these palm thrusts that actually miss the bagsnatcher and hit Sang Hwan into the middle of next week.

When he wakes up, he's covered in thousands of acupuncture needles and surrounded by five doddering old people who keep talking about his incredible ch'i - a mystical force that, when unlocked, can turn a normal human into a superhuman. These old fogeys call themselves the "Seven Masters" (though there's only five of them left), and they've taken to things like running children's martial arts camps and psychic hotlines to keep the lights on. Sadly, being a Ch'i Master doesn't pay the bills like it used to.

Sang Hwan decides this talk of mystical martial arts is all rubbish, so he runs away and goes back to his normal existence, but after a little humiliation at the hands of local hoods, he decides that if the Masters can teach him to fight, maybe it's worth giving them a shot. Of course, the fact that he has the hots for Eui-Jin might also be a factor... Soon Sang Hwan's ch'i is flowing wildly, which is a good thing because one of the missing Masters is back, and determined to put the world in peril.

Now, if you're sensing a little similar theme to Shaolin Soccer in Aruhan, you're on target. That film and this one share much of the same style and sensibility, but where the earlier laugh riot was all flash and no substance, here the comedy is much more finely tuned, the action much less comicbook-like, the effects more subtle and realistic, and the story almost good enough to hold your interest by itself.

I have to tell you - I LOVED this film from start to finish. It's perhaps a little long at almost two hours, and there are periods that drag a little, but it could well be because the rest of the film moves at such a frenetic pace, and has so many strong characters and so much smart comedy, that the chances to catch a breath actually seem much longer than they are. There are at least five battle sequences that could easily have been good enough to be the 'climax' of the film, but just when you think it's over and done with, he director packs in another one.

Unlike Jackie Chan's comedy, this is not all pratfalls and 'whoopsies'. Unlike Sammo Hung's comedy, this is not fat jokes and innuendo. And unlike Jerry Lewis' comedy, this is not a bumbling idiot staying a bumbling idiot. As Sang Hwan's ch'i begins to flow, he starts to look more and more like the Saturday morning matinee hero, with a tinge of generation X cynicsm thrown in. In fact, his transformation in the film is so well performed and written that by the end he's almost a reluctant superman, which is a far cry from the cartoon-like way he's introduced to the audience.

Aruhan has a little of everything. It has the action and effects of Matrix, it has the female ass-kicking of Kill Bill, it has the comedy of Shaolin Soccer, the solid concept (only this time not wasted) of Mystery Men, the artistry of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and all the mainstream appeal and crowd-pleasing delivery of Spiderman. It is the kind of movie that will teach Hong Kong how to make a modern martial arts film - and that's like selling ice cubes to eskimoes.

I hope and pray that director Ryu Seung-Wan (yes, he's lead actor Ryu Seung-Bum's brother) isn't seduced to the US to make crappy films with crappy scripts for crappy producers like Joel Silver and Jerry Bruckheimer, because if he can make a film this good and this mainstream, in South Korea, on a tenth of the budget of a medium-sized US film, and infuse it with this much comedy timing, special effects and sarcasm, then he could refuse to ever set foot in Hollywood and still be known as one of the finer directors of the modern day. Likewise, I'm sending out all the ch'i I have that Miramax doesn't buy this film, attempt to dub it with American voices, then decide to dub it with Asian voices, then decide 'to heck with it' and simply release it in three theaters with half an hour cut out of the thing (like they did with Shaolin Soccer). For Aruhan to sit on shelves for two years like Hero did (another fine Miramax botch job) would be a crime. Audiences need to see this film, and they need to see it on a big screen.

After last year's Oasis, and now Aruhan, I'll even go as far as to say that I'm officially a South Korean film fan. Whoever is guiding the industry in that country seems to understand that the global market for blockbuster movies doesn't need to be fed stupid, splashy material over and over again, and if you'r going to make a name for yourself, you simply need a good script, a good story, some good actors, good effects and a director who knows how to take the best of every genre and turn it into something truly breathtaking. Take your mom, take your kid sister, take your grandfather - they will all laugh hard, as I did, and wonder just how many other great films from South Korean that've missed over the years.

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originally posted: 10/05/04 06:12:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/29/07 cien I loved the movie, it was hilarious and the fighting was great. 5 stars
2/28/07 malcolm a lot of fun, has elements of "The Matrix" and "Spider-Man" movies 4 stars
4/24/06 blade i love the art of fight in this film 5 stars
8/21/05 tinu sharma i love actress of this film 3 stars
7/26/05 Lester Huffmire a must for martial arts fans 5 stars
6/02/05 Ngu SK very good and fun and packed with actions as well. 5 stars
3/22/05 Yeram I love this movie. It's awesome. The fights, the comedy, the beating up...AWESOME! 5 stars
1/29/05 Trond jo ultimat! 5 stars
10/20/04 Paul J Great movie... Brings to mind films like Shaoling Soccer and The Matrix (Only more fun). 5 stars
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Directed by
  Seung-wan Ryu

Written by
  Seung-wan Ryu

  Ryu Seung-beom
  Yoon So-yi
  Ahn Sung-Kee
  Jeong Du-hong
  Yon Ju-sang

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