Hwal (2005) Poster

(2005)

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10/10
The bow - a spiritual metaphor
Horia -10 January 2007
Warning: 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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7/10
Old School Kim Ki-Duk
sain1115 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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8/10
Love boat
Akihse14 September 2005
Warning: 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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10/10
A shot of the weapon that inspired the film's title
Musashi Zatoichi6 September 2005
Warning: 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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10/10
The perfect movie
pulp_post8 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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10/10
The young girl symbolizes the human Soul, the old man - the Spirit
vajrayogini19 March 2016
Warning: 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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7/10
moral ambiguity
dromasca2 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
'The Bow' comes in the work of prolific Kim Ki-duk immediately after a series of three wonderful films - 'Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring', 'Samaritan Girl' and '3-Iron' and a few year after his other masterpiece 'The Isle'. I have somehow missed seeing it when it came out, or maybe it was not distributed in Israel. Now I caught up with the film on VoD and my impression is that it marks exactly the moment when the Korean director started a series of less successful experiments. Of course, one cannot expect even from a great director like Kim (and he is one of the best living creators in cinema) to produce only masterpieces. Hopefully he has in front of him many years of fine film making and we are here to enjoy his films.

Part of the problem with The Bow is that it repeats to some extent the format of the some of the previous successful films, taking a story of child-teenage initiation and mixing it with traditional (Buddhist I believe, but I am not very knowledgeable) concepts. So for viewers of some of his previous films, there is a strong and possibly intentional feeling of 'deja-vu', enhanced by the fact that as the story here happens in an isolated environment surrounded by water. The Old Man (Seong Hwan-jeon) is growing for the last ten years a Young Girl (beautiful Han Yeo-reum). They never speak. The only contact of the girl with the outer world is when visitors come for recreational fishing aboard, visitors from the outer world that that she may not remember. Some of them would like to abuse her but she and her protector know how to defend themselves with the help of the only weapon at hand, a traditional bow. Some other may come with better intents, as the young man who falls for the girl and tries to save and take her back to the world. But this is what she wants? This is certainly not what the old man wants, he plans to marry her when she reaches the age of 17.

There is a lot to think about and discuss around this story. Tradition faces modernity, is necessarily one better than the other? Does the girl really want to be saved? The old man may have saved an abandoned six years girl and grew her, but is he entitled to marry her and continue to control her life, to keep her isolated from the world. And is that world better than the smaller and innocent universe they were living in? His keeping the girl isolated may be judged by the world outside as kidnapping and abuse, is this the case? None of these questions have an unambiguous answer and this is not a problem, quite the contrary. Neither is acting (wonderful!) or the cinematography as good as you can expect in a film by Kim Ki-duk. The problem I have is with the final which I will not tell too many details about in order to avoid spoiling the pleasure of the viewing. There is a very strong metaphor here involving of course the bow, which produced me a shock and caused me an ambiguous feeling, not because of the visuals (I am used to much harsher things) but because of its meanings and the way it is directed and acted. For once I would have preferred a different way of ending. Kim Ki-duk decided differently.
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7/10
Poetry in silence
p-stepien31 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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8/10
Haunting
azsara24 July 2013
Turn the lights off, sit back and prepare for a climax of the senses.

What you are about to experience is both visually and aurally exquisite. Nothing short of a manifestation of pure emotion.

Yeo-reum Han is breathtaking in her role as a beautiful 16 year old child, bound to a boat in the middle of an ocean with her companion, 60 year old Seong-hwang Jeon. An elderly fisherman, he cares for her every need, feeds her, bathes her, and sleeps above her in an old bunk bed, desperately clutching for her hand in the middle of the night.

You will begin this film as a spectator, and you'll leave the film with a small part of your soul and heart invested in this masterpiece. Ki-duk Kim teaches us what pure love looks and sounds like, and its a realisation that will haunt you for years to come.
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6/10
preparation
tusuz27 September 2005
Warning: 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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9/10
Almost a masterpiece. However the last 10 minutes destroyed it.
Maomao15 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
From the award winning director, Kim Ki-duk, that gave us 'The Isle', 'Address Unknown', 'Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring', 'Samaritan Girl', '3-Iron'.

In this film 'The Bow: Hwal', the old man, the young girl and the young guy all do not have names. However the film still breezes through without identity crisis or confusion. With absolutely NO lines from the old man and the young girl, all we hear from these two characters were whispers to people's ears, laughter and crying. However, it was a masterpiece of absent dialogue. With subtle facial expressions and actions (such as aiming of the bow, striking off calendar dates, holding the girl's hand during sleep, re-construction of bed), it spoke much much louder than words. A favourite cinematic style by Kim Ki-duk.

The director, Kim Ki-duk, has also done a good job in creating unbearable suspense on what the old man whispered to the 'fortune seeking' people. I wonder if the Korean DVD will reveal these tidbits.

The music used in the film is simple yet moving. I believe the musical instrument used was Er-hu, an ancient Chinese 'violin'.

< MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD > < MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD >

In my opinion, the last 10 minutes destroyed the film. It was almost a masterpiece from Kim Ki-duk. The idea of supernatural elements and the old man's spirit having sex with the girl is too much to accept. After having sex, the old man spirit allows the girl and the guy to go back to shore while he sinks together with his ship. It was a great film without a great ending. In comparison, '3-Iron' had a stronger ending than 'The Bow'.

Mao points: 9/10
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8/10
Coping with unmatched expectations
Hwal / The Bow is a very rich movie for those interested in Buddhism however in cinematic terms there are some fairly substantial and overt structural problems with the movie. For example the film starts with a jolt of clumsy expositional dialogue (this is where characters have a very forced conversation that reveals the back story of the movie). Motifs are over-repeated (shooting of arrows) and non-sourced / non-diegetic music is layered on every time the old man starts to play his bow, all the worse because it is fairly saccharine.

Those with a yen for Buddhist films are however living on food parcels and so the film's flaws may be overlooked in kindness to the healing the film provides and the thoughts it provokes.

The plot of the movie concerns an old man who lives out on the sea on a fishing boat. He provides divination services and also a platform for line fishing. Customers sit on pastel-coloured sofas and ease away the day. He has spent a decade bringing up a young foundling girl and intends the unnatural act of marrying her when she reaches age.

To me one of the key points of Buddhism is that if you are angry with the world, there are two ways to proceed, change the world or change your attitude to it, the latter is the more likely to work. Another idea would be to be like the smooth stone in a river, over which the world flows softly, rather than the jagged cause of turbulence. Dukkha (a catch-all concept of suffering that has no direct translation to English) is minimised by the changing of the self. One facet of dukkha is viparinama-dukkha, which concerns the pain of unmet expectations and the pain caused by the impermanence of happiness. The old man in the movie suffers from this and has to learn to deal with it.

I found myself accepting unpalatable truths about my life watching this movie and salvaged a couple of evenings of calm from it. I would recommend it to those seeking to do likewise. One point to raise is that Kim is not averse to animal cruelty in his movies, in this one a chicken receives several deliberate blows from a character.

Others have pointed to the entire movie being composed of symbols, this is a particularly beautiful alternative way of looking at the movie, although it amounts to much the same take home in the end.

This is to my friend Mollie.
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4/10
The arrow misses its mark
ccscd21226 July 2006
Warning: 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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8/10
Kim Ki-Duk adds another masterpiece to his already stellar portfolio.
moneenerd20 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
While most hardcore Kim Ki-Duk fans will hate on this for being too 'mainstream', simple, or even over-dramatic, "The Bow" is, as expected from this director, nothing short of genius. Comparisons between this and past KKD films like "3-Iron" or "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring" made by narrow-minded critics is a little unfair, and it's a damn shame.

A film set entirely on a lonely fishing boat, "The Bow" is about a 60-year-old man who takes a young, lost, 7-year-old girl in as his own, raises her like a daughter, and makes big plans to marry her when she turns 17. As the day of her 17th birthday approaches, the more and more our naive, young, mute nubile is groped, attacked, and drooled-over by visiting men there to fish. The old man, to protect the girl, wards the men off with his bow, a weapon that is also used as a kind of hypnotic musical instrument (based on the Er-hu) many times throughout the film. The bow protects and soothes her as the boat distances her from outside evils. Despite it's odd moments, life is perfect and simple for our couple, until a young man our heroine's age boards the ship and intrigues her with his caring disposition, his kind face, and his knowledge of the modern world outside of the boat. What is to come is a suspenseful tale of jealousy, trust, possessive love, and innocence.

Nothing can describe the confusing mix of emotions I felt watching "The Bow" very late at night/early in the morning this week. A story of an aging man raising a young girl to be his future wife is kind of hollow, with little depth, thanks to it's use of very little dialogue, but Kim Ki-Duk's masterful story-telling makes up for it, relying heavily on subtle, yet convincing physical expression, and some help by a great soundtrack, and breath-taking cinematography. With absolutely no spoken dialogue between our two main characters and a series of bizarre incidents (see the way the old man and his girl read fortunes), I was left out to sea to piece "The Bow's" puzzle together on my own, no one or nothing to help guide me wrap my head around this mysterious couple, experiencing ever-changing and intense feelings of anger, disgust, wonder, and, ultimately, sadness. As you can see, this is really no different from what's expected of Mr. Kim Ki-Duk, as he reminds us how confusing and cruel both love and life are, and we can never be able to entirely control either one.

The ending to "The Bow" makes some unexpectedly touches on the super-natural briefly, which may throw some viewers into a quirky loop, but our director pulls it off most gracefully, without being too over-the-top. The old man decides to set his girl free in the most shocking way one could imagine, leaving us to question his seemingly selfish motives.
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5/10
Lousy
zetes15 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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5/10
love boat
fnorful12 April 2006
Having seen (and absolutely loved) Kim Ki-Duk's Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring this was a must-see at the Cleveland Int'l Film Festival this year.

Alas, it's just not magical enough.

I liked that the Old Man and the Young Girl never had dialog; it was the juxtaposition of the paying, fishing clientèle that was at odds with their relationship. As well, the use of the bow as a weapon was certainly effective, but the use of the bow as a badly-dubbed musical instrument was cheesy at best.

The plot was contrived, an ancient tale sent in contemporary times, uselessly introducing an anachronistic element into the plot line. The use of magical realism was spare and poorly timed, not being acceptable as a shift from the mostly concrete concerns and sensibilities of the rest of the movie.

This was a movie that got more and more disappointing as I watched it. The advice of more broadly-schooled Kim Ki-Duk fans would be good to follow: look for his "masterpieces", not this or other "more mainstream works".
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6/10
Weird and Beautiful
Claudio Carvalho9 September 2009
A sixty and something year old captain has been raising for ten years a girl since she was six in his old fishing vessel that is permanently anchored offshore with the intention of marrying her on her seventeenth birthday. He survives bringing fishermen to fish in the vessel and predicting the future using his bow and shooting arrows in a Buddhist painting on the hull of the vessel while the girl moves back and forth in a swing. He also uses the bow and arrows to protect the girl against sexual assault of the fishermen. They live happily until the day that a teenage student comes to the ship and the girl feels attracted for him. When the teenager discovers that the girl was abducted when she was six and does not know the world, he returns to the vessel to bring the girl back to her parents.

"Hwal" is a very weird movie and it is strange that I liked. The characters do not have names; the girl and the captain do not speak; the old man is apparently an abductor and pedophile; many situations are metaphorical and do not have reasonable explanation. On the other side, the cinematography and the music score are very beautiful; Han Yeo-Reum is extremely gorgeous and sweet; there is a permanent sexual tension along the story; and the screenplay is intriguing and engaging and I was expecting to see some sort of mysterious explanation, even that the girl would be a mermaid, for example. Unfortunately the conclusion is not subtle – actually it is gross - and is very disappointing, open to the most different interpretations. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "O Arco" ("The Bow")
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5/10
Disappointing, surreal drama from the gifted director of The Isle
fertilecelluloid24 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
High expectations are not met in Kim ki-Duk's "The Bow", a lightweight surreal drama that starts with a bang and ends with a whimper. A gorgeous young nymph (Yeo-reum Han) lives on a boat with a crusty old man (Seong-hwang Jeon) she has been promised to when she reaches the age of consent. As the big day approaches, younger suitors provide stiff competition for the jealous old codger who expresses his disapproval by shooting arrows at them. Like the director's "The Isle", this is a film of little dialog and much visual poetry. It is handsomely photographed and well acted. Unfortunately, it is unable to adequately resolve its central dramatic issue, so it becomes wishy-washy and protracted. The girl is a major object of lust and is almost worth the price of admission. An Asian lolita with the most stunning body, eyes and demeanor, she steals every scene and will, hopefully, soldier on to stronger material. "The Bow" is not uninteresting, but it could have been so much more had writer ki-Duk addressed his big third act problems. The score, by Eun-il Kang, is hypnotic at times, and the setting, which features a rope swing off the side of the vessel, is delightfully novel.
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3/10
No Knife in the Water
tangoviudo18 October 2007
Of the films I've managed to get a look at, Kim Ki-Duk has made at least three that are powerfully evocative. "The Bow" isn't one of them. After the principal theme (if you could call it that) was presented, I kept waiting for something else, something compelling, or, if nothing else, some odd tangent that would take the film somewhere else.

Instead, all that happens is repetition - the old man and his bow taking pot-shots at fishermen leering at his teen-aged captive grew tedious. How could he stay in business if he kept threatening his clientèle? And isn't it slightly illegal to assault people with a deadly weapon? Ah, but it's only a metaphor! But even a metaphor needs some consummation, which the viewer (and the old man) never gets. Even the erotic aspect of the story is insufficiently explored. Compare this film with Polanski's "Knife in the Water" and it comes up terribly short.
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8/10
Beautiful, symbolic and emotional...
With this epic movie, Ki-duk Kim really puts out another great story in "The Bow", and I was really surprised at the beauty of this movie.

Taking place on an old, rundown fishing boat, "The Bow" tells the story of an old man (played by Seong-hwang Jeon) who have raised a young girl (played by Yeo-reum Han) for 10 years on the boat, isolated from the outside world, with the only contact with other people is by the ones coming to the boat for fishing and having their fortune read. The old man plans to marry the girl when she becomes of age, but an unexpected spark between the girl and a visiting young man (played by Si-jeok Seo) to the boat sets things spiraling out the old man's control.

Something amazing about "The Bow" was the way that the story takes you through a myriad of emotions, ranging from admiration, curiosity and then on to spite and contempt. And the story was told (and shot) in a way that the emotions of both the old man and young girl were strong and ever-present.

Shot almost without any dialogue, the story was relying heavily on the acting performances of the cast and the ability to tell a story by the director. And wow, it just came together like pieces in a puzzle. Everything was so amazing and worked out quite nicely. The actors did great jobs with their roles, both the speaking and non-speaking roles. But most impressively was Seong-hwang Jeon (the old man) and Yeo-reum Han (the young girl) in their roles. Wow, the chemistry between them on the screen was amazing, and the way they portrayed their characters made it like you were right there on the boat with them.

"The Bow" was really a treat for the eyes to sit down and watch, because the cinematography was so beautiful. The movie is really nicely shot, with lots of great shots, and that was really a necessary ingredient for the movie, being able to portray and tell a story when there wasn't all that much dialogue going on.

I found the movie to be a really great surprise, and I loved how it swept me up and put me right there in the story. It was so compelling and beautiful. And if you are a fan of Asian cinema, then surely you are familiar with Ki-duk Kim's work already. But if not, then "The Bow" is well worth putting into your DVD player and sit down to watch. It is the type of story that will stay with you for a long time.
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6/10
"The same procedure as every year, James..."
dazzling-niam4 August 2006
An elderly fisherman lives with a young girl, he wants to marry on her 17th birthday. But shortly before that day the girl falls in love with some student and that ultimately leads to problems in the relationship between her and the old fisherman.

In beautiful pictures the movie reflects on the dialectics of refuge and prison, tenderness and sadism, love and violence. The 12th Kim Ki-duk-picture comes up with the same metaphors and symbolisms his older films were filled with, which (at least for me, as I've seen all of Ki-duk's works)leads to a déjà-vu-like experience and therefore to slight boredom.

Rating: 6 out of 10
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8/10
beautiful
dbborroughs26 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Simply put one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. I adore the first three minutes of the film and have just watched them several times now. I adore the music and will have to see if I can run down a CD of it.

The plot concerns an old man who lives on a derelict boat in the middle of the sea. He ferries people to and from it so they can fish. Living with him is a young girl who came to the boat when she was seven. The old man intends to marry the young girl when she turns 17. All is fine until one day a young man the girls age shows up and begins to awaken her curiosity about the outside world.

Ultimately more fable than real life this is a very good film. The odd dynamic between the old man and the young girl may upset some people but it flows naturally out of the situation. Its also a film that doesn't play to expectations, so much so that I really will have to sit down and watch the film again, there are a couple of things that happen that seem odd or out of place on first viewing that may not be that way once you reach the end. I'm not sure what I make of it all, however I do know the film still haunts me and on some level colored everything I watched after that.
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6/10
An arrow full of mysterious power.
FilmCriticLalitRao5 July 2007
Kim Ki Duk is the only filmmaker in the realm of world cinema who does not like to repeat himself. There is no story/idea/topic/theme worth human consideration which he has not directed. This is the reason why his films continue to hit us hard on our fragile brains. Hwal is one such film which captivates us for varied reasons. First of all most of the filmmakers have been rather circumspect while dealing with stories featuring an old person in love with a young person. This is not true of Kim Ki Duk. He has brought immense freshness to this theme as in Hwal there is an old man in a boat somewhere in the sea who loves his young girl friend with a view to marry her. His love is unique as it is more of a love based on dedication rather than lust. However in the course of time feelings change and a different reality emerges. This change of emotional events has been deftly handled by Kim Ki Duk as the film ends on a very abstruse note. The best lesson that can be learned from this film is to ruminate over the fact: why two people cannot love each other if they are not of the same age ?
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7/10
Engagingly Claustrophobic
crossbow01064 April 2008
This story is about a fisherman who lives on a somewhat dilapidated fishing boat with his beautiful "grandaughter". The film pretty much takes place solely on the boat, they are never on dry land. The old man and the girl (they are never named and utter sounds but don't speak) have a special relationship, which you learn more about as the movie chugs along. The girl, who in the film is 16, is played by Yeo-reum Han who, when she smiles, is extremely beautiful. Its no wonder the few other characters, all men who pay to fish on the boat, are drawn to her. The film is good as a minimalist piece. That also means, of course, its also a little slow. I was somewhat intrigued, and the film is brave for being so focused in one place. As you see from the 7 rating, its not a great film. If you don't like minimalist films, do not watch this. I have never seen Yeo-reum Han in a film before, so I'll need to see her to see whether she is a very good actress. She is good here, as is the old man, played by Seong-hwang Jeon. You won't love it, but it will keep your interest.
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4/10
Traditional marriage as insipid kiddie porn
MiloMindbender16 April 2009
Well, if kiddie porn could be insipid, this would be it. An older pervert holds a missing girl hostage on his boat & counts off the days til he can legally marry her. Ostensibly to earn money he invites fishers on to the boat to fish, which creates conflict. That actually sounds like it could be a good movie, but "knife in the water" this is not. Think of a music video for John Tesh set in South Korea w/ a virginal 16 yr. old often dressed in white swinging back & forth off the bough of the ship & older men oggling her endlessly, interrupted periodically by scenes of a man old enough to be her grandfather shooting arrows at them because he's jealous. This movie has the emotional complexity of Cinderella and the sub-par acting isn't awful enough to be laughable. The plot is about as unoriginal as it gets and since there's virtually no dialogue, the director has to torture you with excruciatingly insipid new age music for the entire duration of the movie. Getting shot at by real arrows would be a lot less painful than sitting through this one.
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