ave you noticed that in Korean comedies the
main characters (usually the male) tend to give the impression that he is,
shall we say, not "all there"? Take, for example, the hero of
Girl", the hapless wonder in "Sex
is Zero", and now the bumbling cop in "Arahan". Do you
think the Koreans associate comedy with mental deficiency? I bet you could
write a paper on this.
"Arahan" stars Seung-beom Ryu as Sang-hwan,
the mentally questionable hero of our big-budgeted and very CGI-heavy
action/comedy. Although a cop, our hero is nevertheless one of the most
bumbling, hapless, and sad sack you'll ever encounter. After being
viciously beaten and humiliated by a local thug, Sang-hwan seeks out the
training of Tao Master Ja-woon (Sung-kee Ahn) and his Seven Masters. Even
though, as Sang-hwan points out (in probably the character's only moment
of intelligence in the entire film) there are only five of them.
Put into training, Sang-hwan proceeds to whine like a
baby, begging to learn the art of Palm Blast in an obvious attempt to arm
himself so he can avenge his beating. Meanwhile, Heug-un (Doo-hong Jung),
an ancient enemy of the Seven Masters, has just been unwittingly unlocked
from his prison and released back into the world, determined to rule it at
the point of a sword. To absolutely no one's surprised, it's up to
Sang-hwan, the man with the untapped reservoir of chi, to somehow put
aside his moronic tendencies and stop trying to get into Eui-jin's pants
long enough to save the world. God help us all.
The biggest challenge with "Arahan", not
surprisingly, is accepting Sang-hwan as our hero. Thankfully by the hour
mark the script has added about 10 years to Sang-hwan's personality, and
the childish sack of haplessness is replaced by an adult male who is only
half the sack of haplessness. Really, watching a grown man displaying the
mentality of an 8-year old is very unsettling. This guy has the charm of a
baby holding his breath until he gets his way.
As Korean comedies go, "Arahan" isn't
entirely funny, although there are just enough humorous moments to earn it
the "comedy" tag. If you can stand Sang-hwan's constant idiocy,
there's newcomer So-yi Yoon to brighten the dark clouds. She's terribly
attractive, and the fact that she's a major butt-kicker does nothing to
lessen that appeal. Alas, Sung-kee Ahn ("Last
Witness") is criminally underused, relegated to Exposition Guy
The film's funniest moments has to do with the Seven
Masters, especially a scene when, in an attempt to attract more students,
two of the Masters go on TV and completely bombs. It's when the film tries
to push its comedy on us -- say, with Seung-beom Ryu's constant mugging
and "Look at me, I'm being cute and funny!" moments -- that the
movie grates on the nerves. The film is simply trying much too hard to
make Sang-hwan appealing. He isn't -- that is, unless you like grown men
acting like spoiled children.
Another major mistake is not giving Heug-un, the
villain, much of a reason to be villainous. As written, the character
simply wants to bring order to the world, thus saving it from itself. Not
exactly the type of evil world domination scheme deserving of our scorn
and hatred. So it wasn't completely gratifying to see Heug-un take a major
beating in the film's final fight, which in itself seemed to keep going
and going and going...
Speaking of which, "Arahan" is a bit
erratic with its action. Not only is the first half mostly lacking in said
action, but the script seems confused about its own premise. At one point
Eui-jin is scaling skyscrapers like Spider-man, and in another scene she
appears to have psychic powers. Also, in the cinematic world post-"Matrix",
"Arahan" indulges in way too many scenes of characters leaping
over each other in incessantly looooooong slow motion. Take out all
the "leap over each other in slow motion" scenes and
"Arahan" would hit 90 minutes, tops.
If you liked the crazy Asian superheroics of "Volcano
High" or "Legend
of Zu", then the second half of "Arahan" is what you're
looking for. The action ranges from swordplay to hand-to-hand, but things
don't stop there. As in "Volcano High", characters start
developing new powers out of the blue, and you mind as well go with it
since doing otherwise would be trying to exert common sense onto the
movie, which is a big no-no. In any case, everyone seems to have studied
up for their parts, thus making the film's fighting mostly believable.
In short, "Arahan" gets 3.5 stars for some
nice (albeit repetitive) action, but loses a half star for forcing me to
endure a moronic hero for much of the film.