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Kim Ki-Duk is a very acclaimed director from Korea. He is responsible for Korean Masterpieces: THE ISLE, SPRING SUMMER FALL.., TIME, BAD GUY, 3-IRON and some others. This director's style is that he expresses his films with very little dialogue, he intends the actors, actresses to express the story through the expression of raw emotion. You may say his films are a bit on the "artsy" side, but for me, his films deal with the frailties of the human spirit, man's weaknesses and their ability to adapt.
The story centers around an old man in his sixties who has been raising a young girl(Han Yeo Reum, Samaritan girl) since childhood on a ship that floats unanchored off Korea's coastline. The girl hasn't been outside the confides of the boat and as a result, her world are obviously quite limited, but still she seems satisfied and happy, and the old man plans to marry her the day she reaches legal age. The two make their living by hosting fishermen aboard the boat, and also tell fortunes in a rather bizarre and dangerous fashion, by shooting arrows whizzing past the girl's head into a Buddhist painting on the side of the boat. Afterwards, the girl whispers in the old man's ear the 'said' fortune. (This method of fortune-telling appears to have been invented by Kim, though possibly inspired by the common practice of dropping a dart onto a spinning disc as I've read)
The film opens in striking fashion with a shot of the weapon that inspired the film's title. When fitted with an additional piece, the bow becomes a stringed instrument. Sadly, however, the instrument doesn't fit into the film's plot beyond providing for occasional mood music. The Bow is utilized more often as a means of fending off lecherous fisherman from manhandling the young girl, who braves the elements in a flimsy dress, and who (like all the women in Kim's films) is pretty gorgeous. Most of the fishermen gossip that the old man supposedly kidnapped the young girl when she was too young to remember. Soon, however, a sensitive male college student shows up on board and develpos a liking for the girl. The old man discovers he's going to need more than a bow if he wants to keep the delectable young thing for himself.
Kim's mostly common approach to expression is to set the story in an isolated or a marginalized world, usually a physical space or a way of life(like 3-IRON, Time), places that certain specific rules and customs would apply. Examples are the floating temple in Spring.., the red light district in Bad Guy, the lake in the Isle, the motel in the Bird Inn, etc. The delight of watching his films come from exploring and coming to understand these worlds, the applied rules and how they operate.
In the Bow, we see that the bow itself is a means of defense for the old man and the girl in a series of repeating incidents. It characterizes the "society" of the boat by showing first, a man's skill with the bow, and then how the girl's spatial knowledge of the boat and archery skills is a second line of defense.
These scenes don't add to character depth, and compounded by the fact that they hardly talk to each other, while much of the film shows the old man and the girl growing more emotionally detached, all they can do is trade angry/annoyed stares at each other. (over and over again, again and again)It gets a little repetitive after a while, however, the strong performances of the two leads does help the film along. You can really observe that one building emotion within.
Kim's style with the limited dialogue approach hampers this film, it comes more like a gimmick and not an integral part of the film. The lack of words by the lead characters(because they hardly know each other) in THE ISLE and 3-IRON worked very well because they could communicate emotionally and the silence accentuates their strange bond. Kim's approach to his film "TIME" would have served well in the "The Bow".
I have the Korean Region-3 release, and from experience, I know Tartan will utilize the transfer from this dvd. The Korean release is almost 122 minutes long, I'm not sure how long the U.S. version is, specs say 90 minutes, I'm not sure.
PICTURE: Anamorphic Widescreen. The transfer is fitting to the film. It is sharp and has good black levels. Some scenes have a bit more grain than others do.
AUDIO/SUBTITLES: Korean 5.1 DD and DTS. The subtitles are well timed and executed.
EXTRAS: Trailers, Interviews, commentary.
In Closing: Although "The Bow" it is not one of Kim Ki-duk's best, it is very much still worth a look. Always approach his films when you are in a certain mood. You will not be able to figure this one out until its climax.
Done perfect or not, Kim Ki-Duk always takes you on a ride. As with most of his films, the ending is pretty much open to the viewer's interpretation. Whether you take it literally or as a metaphor(that's how I took it) is entirely up to you, it is the beauty of Kim's film making.