Arahan – film review

Promotional poster for "Arahan".
Promotional poster for “Arahan”.
I know what some of you are thinking. Why on earth would you want to watch a Korean martial arts movie? I mean, just listen to this plot summary: Sang-hwan is a useless rookie beat cop — not respected and not effective. When he gets caught in the crossfire between a thug and Eui-jin, a hot Tao master he later crushes on, he finds himself in the care of the Seven Masters.

Originally seven Tao masters, now there are only five, and they are very impressed with Sang-hwan’s chi. In fact, a few of them wonder if he could be the disciple they’ve been waiting for—a Tao disciple worthy of becoming Arahan, master of the world.

But who believes in levitation, wall walking, and palm blasts these days? Certainly not Sang-hwan. After a group of mafia toughs beat him up on the job, Sang-hwan returns to the masters to learn from them.

Meanwhile, one of the lost masters, Heuk-woon, returns. After being imprisoned for centuries as an abuser of the power of Arahan, he is back for the keys to finish where he left off. By ruling the world, he can rid it of evil and control all of humanity. If only Sang-jean wasn’t walking a similar path, seeking power for his own vanity and vengeance. If he took time to master himself, he could become the Arahan that his masters have been waiting for.

Sounds fairly typical for the genre, doesn’t it? Find the keys. Unleash ultimate power. Beat the bad guys to the prize. Get the girl. So what’s so entertaining about this movie that I would recommend it? After all, unlike Woochi, the martial arts stunts in this movie aren’t even ground breaking. In fact, some are rather hokey and old school. The film is ten years old, after all.

From the first moments of Arahan, the viewer is treated to the bickering Tao masters who complain about the state of their art these days. They gripe about what a pain it is to train for hours every day. They grow tired of staring at the same wallpaper while levitating. One even uses his levitation to change light bulbs.

Arahan is a wry comedy that spoofs the genre while expanding it. I found the main characters all engaging and entertaining. There was a tongue-in-cheek quality to the dialog that was balanced just right without crossing over into campy. And the goals of our heroes aren’t the purest.

Our hero, Sang-hwan, just wants to train to learn palm blasts so he can employ them on the beat while dealing with jaywalkers. His is not a noble goal, but slowly his character passes through an arc from pathetic buffoon to tragic bully to magnificent hero that will have the viewer smiling, if not outright laughing. Arahan is a fun flick and one I would not mind watching again.

Release Date: April 30, 2004 (South Korea)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Korean
Original Title: 아라한 장풍 대작전 (Arahan Jangpung Daejakjeon)

MySF Rating: Four point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 70%


Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (social drinking, smoking)
Language: 1 (mild)
Nudity: 0
Sexuality: 0
Violence: 3 (hand-to-hand combat, weapons combat, mugging, revenge beatings, drawn out fisticuffs)

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