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Cartoonish `Arahan' Is Super Fun

2004/04/29 Source

By Joon Soh
Staff Reporter
It's been four years since Ryoo Seung-wan made a name for himself with "Chukgona Hogun Nabbugona" ("Die Bad"), a disjointed meditation on gangsters and their violent world that was as fascinating as it was hard to watch. That low-budget affair was followed up a year later with "Pido Nunmuldo Opsi" ("No Blood No Tears"), a film that added a noir-ish sensibility to Ryoo's developing aesthetic of violence.

Fans of the cult director, however, might be turned off by the lightness of his new film "Arahan". Based on a 1970s local animation, the comical action film combines Hong Kong martial arts with "The Matrix"-style computer graphics, has none of the bleakness of Ryoo's previous films and is as mainstream and easy to watch as anything out in the theaters.

But there was always something a little cartoonish about the way Ryoo treated violence and, perhaps because of that, "Arahan" ends up being the strongest film the young director has made. In fact, the wild absurdity of the story seems to take the pressure off the director to make something "meaningful", and rather lets him give free reign to whatever his imagination can come up with.

The film takes its story from the children's animation "Maruchi Arachi", about two Taekwondo-fighting superheroes protecting the world from evil. The crime-fighting duo are played in the film by actress Yun So-i, making her feature debut, and Ryoo Seung-bum, a popular actor and the director's younger brother.

Ryoo plays Sang-hwan, a young policeman whose bumbling inexperience is only matched by his overwhelming desire for justice. Meeting up with Chilson, a group of senior citizens with Taoist superpowers (led by Ahn Sung-ki in a great supporting role), and their student, the beautiful Eui-jin (Yun), Sang-hwan becomes convinced to cultivate the incredible spiritual energy in himself.

Telling the story of the duo's training and their eventual battle against the world's greatest evil, "Arahan" is comic book made flesh. The film is filled with characters flying through the air, smashing through walls and moving objects with their "ki" (energy), all done with the drama and the sheer coolness of "manhwa" (manga in Japanese) panels. The film also riffs on past Kung-fu flicks, especially Jet Li in "Once Upon a Time in China" and Bruce Lee, as well as the Wachowski Brothers, while giving them its own spin.

But "Arahan" wouldn't have been nearly as impressive without its cast, led by the delightful Ryoo Seung-bum. A cross between Bruce Lee and Jerry Lewis, Ryoo is a sheer joy to watch as he puts his whole body into the film, and his enthusiasm goes a long way in making the film an impressive balance of humor and action.

Ryoo Seung-bum, left, and Yoon So-yi are out to protect the world in the new film "Arahan".

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