A naive yet passionate Sang-hwan becomes a downtown policeman to help the good and punish the bad. But when it comes to gang crime, he is nothing but a coward. One day he gets discovered by a martial arts master and his training to unleash the true power within him begins. Meanwhile, the Ultimate Evil, Black Cloud, is set loose. Now Sang-hwan, who possesses the absolute power, becomes ‘ the one’ who must save the world.
Jong Doo-hong is one of the most beloved and well respected martial arts action directors in Korean cinema history. The first film in which I caught onto his work as an actor and fight choreohrapher was director Ryu Seung-wan’s 2004 science fiction martial arts fantasy action comedy, Arahan: Urban Martial Arts Action.
By this time, lead actor Ryu Seung-bum had already appeared in a few other films, including one I still haven’t seen yet, a quirky action dramedy called No Manners (if I were to give you a list of films I have been too busy to watch, it would take a few months, LOL). Seung-bum played the lead role brilliantly as a down-on-his-luck rookie cop who, despite his good intentions, gets ripped on by his superiors, incredibly disrespected as a public servant and ends up having the snot kicked out of him by local gangsters.
The movie develops with Sang-hwan in an accidental chance meeting between a young and skilled prodigy of Tao and beneficiary of her title as “Arachi” named Eu-jin, played by Yoon Soy-yee. From there, the relationship between is about as awkward and rocky as it gets. But things definitely get serious as the plot thickens and the stakes continue to rise. Actor Ahn Sung-ki handles himself very well as Ja-woon along with Yun Joon-sang as Mu-UN, the two main modern-day “masters of Tao” out of the six in the film who guide Sang-hwan as much as possible to train him and perfect his Qi flow in order to possibly become “Maruchi”.
There is a lot more in the film that takes place throughout to detail the story, but I will mention the film does have its quirky moments which contribute to the film’s comedy. My favorite moment takes place later on in the film with actors Kim Yeong-in and Baek Chan-ki who play Yuk-bong and Sul-woon, respectively. The two have done filmwork together prior to Arahan, but here, some of their comedic genius goes on perfect display, playing another two of the six masters of Tao who are trying to help gain some publicity for Ja-woon’s school by going on a television show. It’s one of my favorite scenes, and you HAVE to see it to enjoy it.
After all said and done, the climatic final fight between good and evil ensues, and Sang-hwan is the true underdog you will root for. The fight rages with intensity, flight, and pure brutality until only one is left standing. The wirework was great, the choreography was excellent, the visuals and physical hand-to-hand combat and swordplay action were fantastic, and the story was heartfelt, gripping, epic in scope and powerful to the knuckle bone. Action director Jong Doo-hong treats us very well in the dual role of action director and the villain, Heuk-woon.
Ryu Seung-bum and his brother, director and co-writer Ryu Seung-wan clearly do a terrific job whenever they work on a movke together. They also shared the set of Crying Fist in which Seung-wan starred opposite Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, New World), and recently as the release of Seung-Wan’s new film, The Berlin File, in which Doo-hong also returns as the film’s action director.
If you have ever seen films like Volcano High, Star Wars, The Last Dragon and Snake In The Eagle Shadow, then Arahan: Urban Martial Arts Action is just the right movie for you. I bought the limited edition 2-disc box set at a local Korean book store after reading some reviews on a now defunct film website, but still skeptical about what I was getting into. It’s a film that I am very glad to have in my collection, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you will be pleased as well.
At first, I did not know if there was a Blu-Ray release or a digital download available for this film. I did, fortunately, discover at least a few places you can find the Blu-Ray, and maybe other versions of the film as well, which you can find at YesAsia, DVD Planet, Anime Haru, Tower, Hanbooks, Sainsbury’s Entertainment, and Amazon, Dvd-N-Bluray, and also on Netflix for streaming.
In the meantime, if you haven’t seen it yet, a new video has gone viral in the past week or so, which showcases an interview with veteran stunt expert and Korean martial arts choreographer Jung Doo-hung, where he talks about the state of his career in light of the release of his debut in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the state of Korean action today, and where he wishes to continue from here on out.
Buy Arahan: Urban Martial Arts Action today!
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.