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The Bow
cast: Han Yeo-reum, Jeon Sung-hwan, Seo J-seok

director: Kim Ki-duk

86 minutes (18) 2005
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
If a filmmaker is looking for substantial write-up then they should consider putting a little more into their films. With his new film The Bow (aka: Hwal), director Kim Ki-duk appears to have gone the minimalist route. The story is slight, the dialogue sparse, the setting a fishing board and its transfer craft in the middle of an ocean. The film never sees dry land. Behind the scenes it was either unexpectedly tough or rank stupidity as the shoot took place during a cold period, which was felt by all, not least the young actress. She is required to wear light costumes in order to display her youth and femininity. Winter togs would have given her a cumbersome gait and hidden her skinny beauty. Definitely a no go.

An elderly boatman rents his craft and services to anglers. Renters of their boat and services can stay overnight, and the superstitious can have the future determined though the mystical talents of the boat-keeper and his young charge. The old sailor stands on the transfer craft and fires arrows into Buddhist art on the side of the main vessel. The young girl swings back and forth in the line of fire as the arrows find their target. The girl then whispers the future into the old man's ear and he passes it on hushedly into the ear of the person paying for the fortune. The girl has been with the old man ten years. The circumstances under which he adopted her remain undisclosed and mysterious. What he has since determined, though, is that when she reaches 17, only several months away, he will marry her and she, knowing nothing of the world beyond the boat and the sea, sees nothing untoward in this request.

With little other to do at sea she becomes adept in what crafts are available to her and a lot of play is made of her bowmanship. The problem for the old man is that now that she is of a comely age she is also drawing a lot of attention from the visiting anglers. The reductive education that plays her into the old man's hands also renders her naive to the intentions of the men who can barely concentrate on their fishing. She begins to awaken to her sexuality only when a modern and moneyed youth drops by the boat in one fishing group. Before departing he leaves her his I-pod and she idles about on deck alone dreaming about the boy to a private soundtrack of his creation. The old man begins to fear that he will lose her and there is a crack down on her interactivity with visitors. He cheats on the crosses on the calendar, eager to bring the wedding date forward and entrapping her in the marriage. The boy meanwhile has been pursuing the truth about the girl and has discovered that she was a missing waif, doting parents still hankering for her. Arrows fly dramatically throughout the story, the girl looking a particularly fabulous pose with the bow arched to fire. As in the director's earlier film, The Isle, this film closes on a magical realist note. As the old man uses a suicide attempt to coax the young girl into marriage the consummation of the marriage is left to dreams and metaphor.

The 40-minute behind-the-scenes documentary among the extras turns out to be a lazy collection of badly shot, chronologically taken, perhaps not even edited, footage which reveals the freezing conditions of the shoot which the filmmakers initially tried to hide. Snow could not be hidden though and instead it is given a magical portent in the movie. Han Yeo-reum, previously starred for Duk in his film Samaritan Girl, and the behind the scenes reveals in her a simplicity and inexperience, though this in no way impinges on her role and performance in the film. Duk's approach looks ramshackle, the film possibly shot on nothing more than a synopsis, hence the little dialogue. Yeo-reum's costume design is based on her inability to shop for clothes and so the colourful pullovers and dresses are created from recycled materials. Had this film wider appeal her clothing would be promptly mimicked by UK and US kids, perfect for a new grunge stylistic phase. The film is beautifully shot by Jang Seong-back but the pace is lacklustre. Meditative cinema is fine but something in it as to set the pace. The Isle was also set on water, but not exclusively as it is here. It gives the impression that this was a stop gap idea, a filler project, to keep the production history momentum running while something better came along.
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