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Reviews & Ratings for
The Bow More at IMDbPro »Hwal (original title)

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80 out of 92 people found the following review useful:

The bow - a spiritual metaphor

Author: Horia - from Romania
10 January 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie is a metaphor for the life of a person seeking spiritual liberation, meditating in retreat, and finally overcoming his ego and uniting his soul with God (or his supreme self, Atman).

The old man is the ego. The girl is the soul. The ocean is the world. The boat is the physical body. The guests that come fishing are the thoughts. The bow is the consciousness. The young man is the supreme Self, Atman.

The act of shooting the arrow from the bow is the act of meditation, an act where the consciousness is perfected, united and becomes an unstoppable power.

The dual functions of the bow - as a weapon that has an overwhelming power yet it is also an instrument of art and beauty - represent the two aspects of the consciousness - Cit and Ananda, Cit = consciousness (arrow) and Ananda = beatitude (music).

The way the old man was protecting the girl is the fight of the mind to keep the soul pure and intact. The visitors (impure thoughts) were attempting to spoil the purity of his soul while he was protecting it with the bow (his focused consciousness, or could be by a state of meditation, because in a meditation the mind becomes as focused as the arrow shot from a bow).

The fortunetelling is a meditation where the soul is providing answers to mind. The answers first appear in the soul, in a state of meditation (the shooting of the bow). Then the soul (the girl) shows the mind the answer.

The moment when the girl was rejecting the old man's hand at night is the moment when the ego is alone, separate from his soul, in a dark night of suffering that is necessary for it to understand his mistakes.

The old man's attempt to stop the girl leaving by sacrificing his life is the sacrifice of the ego that is necessary for the soul to become free. Only after the ego completely sacrifices itself, can the soul become free to discover the supreme self, Atman.

The death of the old man was the death of the dual mind and ego. The girl's orgasm is the ecstatic expansion of the soul and that marks the moment of supreme Liberation. The arrow plays the role of the consciousness that penetrates the soul and makes it expand with infinite joy into a state of union with the supreme Self - represented here by the young boy who was holding the girl.

The sinking of the boat represents the death of the physical body. The girl leaving together with the boy represents the life after the supreme Liberation, where the soul is together with the supreme Self (or with God).

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57 out of 86 people found the following review useful:

Old School Kim Ki-Duk

Author: sain11 from Australia
15 September 2005

I must confess I am a huge Kim Ki-Duk fan, and have loved every one of his films. In my opinion Ki-Duk has directed 4 absolute masterpieces of modern cinema, Bad Guy, 3 Iron, The Isle, and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring. Each of these films has gone some way to changing the shape, scope, style or accepted boundaries of modern cinema.

The Bow, however does not go to these lengths, but instead falls into the category of Ki-Duk's more eclectic and arguably more mainstream works like the Birdcage Inn or Samaria. This is by no means a bad thing as these are also great films in their own right.

Much like 3 Iron, the Bow has very little dialog, and much of the emotion is conveyed solely by glances, gestures or actions. This makes the film both more and less commercially acceptable to western audiences.

The Bow has re-confirmed Kim Ki-Duk as a modern cinematic maverick, an uncompromisingly original and visionary director.

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21 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

Love boat

Author: Akihse from Sweden
14 September 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An old man and a teenage girl live on an anchored boat somewhere out to sea. He plans to marry her at her 17th birthday. While he occasionally leaves their floating home to fetch fishing tourists she never does. Only the visitors seem to think there is something strange about the situation. The man and the girl seem happy. At first. A handsome young man who visits the boat gradually makes her question her situation, to the increasing dismay of the old man.

To me Hwal seem to be a metaphor of possessive love and moving on. On the dramatic level some things don't make sense. On the metaphorical level they do, to a greater extent anyway. When the old man shoots arrows at men who flirts or tries to paw the girl there is no police investigation or vindictive victims. This is just a way to show that jealousy makes you do stupid things that potentially can hurt others. When the boat where the old man and the girl used to live follows the boat on which the girl tries to leave with the young man, it doesn't matter that the engine is broken or that no one is driving it. Old relationships are hard to leave behind.

The downward spiral of jealousy and possessiveness are gut wrenching to watch. You just know something bad is about to happen. Love, or rather the risk of loosing it, makes you hurt each other. Accepting the loss, accepting the pain and letting go is a way out.

Just like other Kim Ki-Duk movies the pace here is tranquil, the photography is beautiful, and the main characters manage the express all the emotions they need using few or no words.

I really liked Hwal but perhaps it's not the best Kim Ki-Duk movie I've seen. The ending is a bit confusing and the theme of possessive love and the setting of a floating home are also explored in the superior Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom (2003).

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23 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

A shot of the weapon that inspired the film's title

Author: Musashi Zatoichi ( from Stockholm
6 September 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The story centers around a man in his sixties who has been raising a young girl since childhood on a ship that floats unanchored off Korea's western coast. Though the borders of her world are obviously quite limited, she seems 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. (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)

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 the young girl, who braves the dead of winter in a flimsy dress, and who (like all the women in Kim's films) is pretty gorgeous. Soon, however, a sensitive male college student shows up on board, and the old man discovers he's going to need more than a bow if he wants to keep the delectable young thing for himself.

One of Kim's most common approaches to storytelling is to set up an isolated or marginalized world (usually a physical space, but sometimes a way of life like in 3-Iron) that operates by its own elaborate set of rules and customs. Examples include the red-light district in Bad Guy, the lake in The Isle, the motel in Birdcage Inn, or the floating temple in Spring, Summer, etc... Part of the pleasure in watching his films comes in exploring and coming to understand these worlds and how they operate. For example, in The Bow we are shown how the girl and the old man defend themselves in a series of repeated scenes. First we are shown the man's skill with the bow, then we see how the girl's spatial knowledge of the boat and archery skills can serve as a second layer of defense. These scenes don't really add much depth to the human characters, but they characterize the "society" of the boat itself.

This is compounded by the fact that the two main characters do not speak to each other. It's true that one of Kim's strengths is to be able to tell stories using very little dialogue. The lack of dialogue between the leads in The Isle and 3-Iron worked well because these couples could communicate with each other emotionally, and the absence of words only accentuated their strange bond. However, in The Bow the old man and the girl spend much of the film growing emotionally more detached. Since they don't talk, the only way left for them to communicate is to trade angry stares, which they do, over and over and over again. In this way, the lack of dialogue comes across feeling more like a gimmick than an integral part of the film.

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15 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

The perfect movie

Author: pulp_post from Portugal
8 April 2010

Hwal is probably the best film I've ever seen in my life, in the sense of being the most beautiful and complete one. The camera and photography are superb, the acting is equally outstanding, the music is adorable and the story, even though it's a simple one, talks about the most important things in life - feelings, choices and destiny.

It goes deeper than the film's length though, if we care to try to understand a bit further than its rather clear metaphors and start wondering about its cultural roots - I may be mistaken here, but I believe that I could foresee some relation with this film itself and the I-Ching oracle that we can see painted on the ship's hull.

As an object of art, I gave 10 in 10 stars to Hwal because it fulfills what cinema is meant to be, well above the conventional, mainstream films that we are flooded with these days.

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7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Poetry in silence

Author: p-stepien from United Kingdom
31 December 2010

Probably Kim Ki-Duk's second most pivotal work to date "Hwai" ("The Bow") tells a story of unconventional love - one full of obsession, unfulfilled dreams and poetry. An old fisherman (Seong-hwang Jeon) lives on a decrepit boat together with a coming of age girl, which he rescued from death at sea, when she was no more than 8 years old. She came to live with him on this boat, where her only contact with the outside world are hobbyists, who pay money to come to fish at sea. All that keeps them company are themselves and the delicate music of a bow instrument. After years of caring after the girl the old man has come to love her, but not in a fatherly way. His longing is to marry the beautiful orphan once she reaches the required age...

Kim Ki-Duk is capable of beautiful storytelling, as is to be confirmed by such works of brilliance as "Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring". And "The Bow" comes extremely close to such exceptionality, albeit never finally overcomes it's own weaknesses. Nonetheless this is an extremely enjoyable and delightful movie, even though filled with unrealised passions and immoral egoism. Even though the script is extremely simple, even threadbare, it never lingers and keeps you enthralled throughout. Not only by the impressive cinematography, but also the subtle acting and storytelling complemented by a riveting score.

Nonetheless the issues with Kim Ki-Duk as a storyteller are quite apparent. The strength of his movie is in lyricism, romanticism and ideas that do not necessarily fit in well with the modern cynicism of today. As long as the poetry is silent the magic overwhelms you. But the moment Kim Ki-Duk's characters start talking the spell is broken, as everything becomes mundane and at times even corny. Thankfully for "The Bow" our two main protagonists do not utter a word throughout the whole movie, whilst outsiders come few and far between. This allows the director to keep his movie consistent in its poetry, something which he was unable to convey in more previous movies such as "Dream" or "Time", where poetry transforms into 'corniness' and the story sells itself short. Even in "The Bow" you have a couple of very awkward scenes, which didn't seem to fit and came out as forcibly placed into the movie (especially a rather awkward self-masturbation scene near the end of it all).

Nonetheless a required watch for anyone who likes a bit of Buddhist philosophy for dinner.

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12 out of 20 people found the following review useful:


Author: zetes from Saint Paul, MN
15 August 2010

I've only seen one other Ki-duk Kim movie, Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall... and Spring. It was quite lovely, especially in its imagery. Yet there was something inherently phony about the whole thing (I even sensed this long before I learned Kim had only a passing familiarity with the religion of Buddhism, which the whole film revolves around). The Bow similarly suffers from phoniness, but even more so. It's a fairy tale of sorts about an old man, probably in his late 60s, who has been raising a young girl for the last decade. She is now 16. He plans to marry her the day she turns 17. Kim begs the audience not to find that too disgusting. I couldn't really do it. I also could never get past the film's corny earnestness, nor its repetitiveness, nor its slapdash symbolism. It has some nice images, and the music is good for a while (it becomes far too overbearing as the film moves on). The young girl, Yeo-reum Han, when she's not being overtly sexualized, is nice to look at (the actress seems to have been in her 20s when the film was made, but she really does look like a young teenager).

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16 out of 28 people found the following review useful:


Author: tusuz from Turkey
27 September 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ki-Duk Kim is one of my favorite directors. In this movie, we see reflections of Samaria and Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom. The old man is preparing the girl for the real world. Fishermen that come to boat blame the old man for keeping her in the boat for 10 years and that he wants to marry her and use her for his sexual needs. Even the girl thinks that way and starts stopping the old man from grabbing her arm in bed. But the old man knows what everybody else doesn't. He is waiting for the right time to free her. The right time is her 17th birthday. With the involvement of the young boy, old man rips the calendar pages off deciding to execute his plan earlier. Old man's spirit having sex with the girl is a part of the preparation for freedom. He frees her from her virginity.

In Samaria, father cannot stop her daughter from early age sex, gives up trying to win and protect her and leaves the daughter on her own. In Hwal, old man is successful. Ki-Duk is against early age sex but he is also against the taboo of virginity. The boat and the bow protects the girl from dangers outside just lake the house on the lake in Bom yeoreum.

In Bom Yeoreum, the student monk leaves the lake before the preparation is complete. And he returns with anger, hopelessness and blood in his hands.

In Hwal, old man does everything to stop that from happening. He scares the fishermen with his bow, stops them from touching her and finally stops the girl and the young boy from leaving before the preparation is complete by tying the rope around his neck with the other end on the moving boat.

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9 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

The arrow misses its mark

Author: ccscd212 from Helsinki, Finland
26 July 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Having seen almost all of Kim Ki-Duk's movies, I will say that this one is easily among his weakest. What goes wrong then? I'll start with the good. The old man's acting is pretty fine-- the girl's acting is a bit more capricious, but usually not annoyingly so. The cinematography is passable, but nothing fancy. The part where the old man plays his bow/ violin on the roof of the boat, however, belongs in a tourism video promoting the wonders of South-Korea, not a Kim Ki-Duk film. The music is cheesy. It's never a good decision to have an actor play a rugged instrument on screen and simultaneously play polished, incredibly melodramatic music on the sound track.

With the technicalities out of the way, let's focus on the story. As far as Kim Ki-Duk goes, the main idea could've been workable. Now it just takes some elements from 'The Isle,' adds some painfully obvious and overdone symbolism plus some magical realism at the end that makes me think that Kim Ki-Duk is having a laugh at my expense. The bow as a symbol of love-- acceptable, sure. It shoots arrows, too = love hurts. It can be used to play the most touching music = love is beautiful. You can use it to predict future events = love is mysterious?? Not to mention, the thing with the rooster and the hen. The type of symbolism the film contains I might expect from a romantic novelist, not a renowned director. The ending is a story in itself, but I honestly felt embarrassed for Kim Ki-Duk while I watched it. Should it have ended with the old man diving in the sea, I would've probably viewed the film in a much more positive light.

Sure there are some classic Kim Ki-Duk moments like the scene with the old man and the rope and even the wedding, but overall this is very sub-par. It's still probably worth watching-- one reason being: to see what kind of sap a talented artist is able to produce apparently without flinching an eye.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The young girl symbolizes the human Soul, the old man - the Spirit

Author: vajrayogini from Belgium
19 March 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In "The Bow" Kim Ki-Duk interprets the human state as life in a boat (the physical body) where the Spirit (old man) and the Soul (young girl) live together. The intellect (the bow) is the only tool the human being can use to connect the Spirit and the Soul. The arrow and the bow is old method of meditation and a way to re-connect the Soul and the Spirit. The bow (the Mind) can be used for protection, to play, to predict the future.... in fact it is the only instrument (weapon) human being has. When the old man plays music with the bow - this represents the internal music of the human body only the Soul can hear and understand.

In the beginning of the human life the primordial life energy is dichotomized in male and female energy (regardless gender in every human being). Christians call the male energy "Spirit", and the female "Soul". Synonyms: yang/yin, Purusha/Prakriti, Siva/Shakti, Osiris/Isis, etc. Those two kinds of life energy are absolutely real and everyone could know them by his/her own experience. The Spirit is old, immovable, conservative, caring and the Soul is always young, curious, dynamic, playful. Usually in common people the Soul is capricious and ignorant and she craves for external pleasures and the whole life energy of the body is used to know mundane things (eating, having sex, watching TV, voting, etc.)- this way no energy is left for the Spirit to be strong. The Spirit loves the Soul and He can't refuse her anything. If the Spirit is strong He guards the Soul, he plays with her, he nourishes her until She is ready for the hierogamy (alchemical marriage). In order to achieve hierogamy the Soul must be virgin meaning that she MUST love only the Spirit, and NOT to crave for mundane things. If the Soul is more interested to know the music from outwards world (symbolized by the Walkman)the Spirit will leave her (the old man dived into the water) and the body will die like the body of common mortal person (the boat sinks). The Spirit and the Soul are connected with a tiny thread (symbolized by the rope). When the Soul prefers to leave the Spirit in order to enjoy the mundane things (to know good and evil) the Spirit feels deep pain and He is wishing to kill Himself. If the Soul is willing to return, the Spirit is the happiest ever.

I believe in the end of "The Bow" Kim Ki-Duk tells us the sad story when the alchemical marriage is inhibited - the Spirit leaves the body (the boat) and the Soul descends into the mundane (she stays with the young boy).

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