Arahan – Kung Fu Comedy

ARAHAN  directed and written by Seung-wan Ryoo (he also wrote and directed No Blood No Tears and Crying Fist among others) is a fantastic romp through modern South Korea.

Seung-beom Ryu plays bumbling cop Sang-hwan, he is a sincere but inept character at the beginning of the film. While chasing a thief, he gets hit by a “palm-blast” directed by a young lady who is trying to help him. This event has a two-fold effect. Sang-hawn is instantly memorized by the beauty of this young lady and he is injured by the power of her palm-blast.   The girl takes Sang-hawn to her father, a martial arts instructor, for treatment. After regaining his senses Sang-hwan finds out the girl is Wi-jin and she is learning how to be a martial arts master.

Sang-hwan is so taken by Wi-jin’s beauty that he completely misses what her father is saying. He has discovered while treating Sang-hwan that his “chi” is very powerful and that he has the potential to become a martial arts master as well.  Wi-jin’s father insists that Sang-hawn start learning the skills that will make him a master. Excited at the prospect of learning the powerful palm-blast and getting to train with Wi-jin, he accepts.

Sang-hawn and Wi-jin are taught by five martial arts experts. Their main goal is to help Wi-jin and Sang-hwan round up their numbers to defeat an evil sixth martial arts expert who is determined to destroy the world.

Seung-beom Ryu is an extremely talented actor. In Arahan he shows a great flair for comedy and physical action. I have always thought of him as the South Korean Jerry Lewis. Early in the film his character is subjected to complete humiliation by a gang of crooks. Later in the film, he gets revenge with some very unwelcome help by Wi-jin. While he is training Ryu shows the gradual growth of his character not only in his martial arts skills but in his personal growth as well.

This film is a brilliant blend of comedy and action. There is a scene towards the beginning of the film where Wi-jin is explaining to Sang-hwan that everyone has ‘chi’ and they use it everyday. This sequence alone is worth the price of admission (or the price of renting the DVD). A rapid montage of people doing seemingly impossible tasks shows just how these ‘normal’ people use their ‘chi’ to their benefit.

While Sang-hwan and Wi-jin train, the evil master is busy trying to take revenge on his former colleagues, the five masters who are now training the young couple.  The five masters are played by actors well known for their past performances as martial arts experts in South Korean Cinema. Director Ryoo planned this film as a homage to the popular South Korean films of the seventies and eighties.

So-yi Yoon plays Wi-jin. This was her first foray into feature films and her performance was impressive. She performed all her own stunts and I found her completely believable as the girl who must follow her destiny to become a master martial artist.

The overall story arc was easy to follow and incredibly funny. The only time the film gets “serious” is when the final battle between the evil master and the young couple takes place. This was my first introduction to South Korean comedy action films and I immediately fell in love with all the characters and what they were doing. I also fell in love with the genre.

Take a moment to watch this wonderful film and you won’t regret it. Pop some corn, and settle back to watch one of the best exports to come out of South Korean cinema.