Fire arrows, fighting and a great big fib

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Fire arrows, fighting and a great big fib

By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer
“Singijeon (The Divine Weapon)” may end up being more fodder for anti-Korean sentiment among the Chinese.

Ludicrous rumors like “South Korea claims Michael Phelps is Korean” and “South Koreans are taking credit for China’s four great inventions” have been circulating as of late on Chinese Web sites. If Singijeon is any indication, the latter is kind of true.

For those of you who aren’t on Wikipedia yet, gunpowder is one of China’s four great inventions, and it plays a large role in this Korean film.

The story unfolds in the Joseon Dynasty of the 1400s, during a time of great governmental turmoil. China’s Ming Dynasty is encroaching upon Joseon, increasingly demanding more tribute from King Sejong and his court. As a Ming army of 3,000 creeps closer, the Chinese envoy places the entire Joseon court under surveillance. This drives military official Chang-gang (Heo Jun-ho) to seek help elsewhere.

Enter Hong-li (Han Eun-jeong), a tragic, brainy heroine who’s just lost her father to an attack. Hong-li is apparently the only person in Joseon who knows how to craft the state’s secret weapon, the singijeon, or “the divine weapon.”

I’m going off the subtitles here, but in the film, Ming leaders, upon discovery of the convoluted singijeon manual, can only deduce that it’s a “version of our fire arrows - only more powerful.”

Here’s the thing, though: The singijeon, which actually exists in real life, and fire arrows are basically one and the same. The former is a launcher for multiple fire arrows, or gunpowder-fortified projectiles that explode after three seconds of hitting their target.

It’s all very spectacular, but make no mistake - the Chinese had fire arrow launchers, too.

Well, since the Joseon court is under close watch, Chang-gang has the brilliant idea of keeping Hong-li at the home of Sul-ju (Jeong Jae-yeong), the leader of a band of merchants.

Of course, the brilliant, beautiful but chaste Hong-li ends up falling for pervy playboy Sul-ju as they work together to save Joseon, which is constantly referred to as “small” and “humble.” Inferiority complex much?

As an action epic, Singijeon features much bloodshed, and at times gets quite touching. But I think I’m with my co-worker, who upon seeing me check out the Singijeon Web site, said, “Oh, it’s yet another nationalistic Korean movie.”

Joseon does see moments of weakness, like when it decides to succumb to Ming’s request for eunuchs by butchering its own boys. But as much as Joseon concedes to Ming, the film still makes sure to note how the latter has “always been a threat.” Hence, in “300”-esque battle sequences (only with more clothing), the tiny band of Joseon warriors succeeds by pure ingenuity.

It’s nationalistic, long and predictable, but Singijeon does provide a peek into the world of Korean film, which few non-Koreans ever get to experience on the big screen. Plus, the splendid costume department does a nice job of bringing the faces on the won notes to life.

But let’s just be clear: The Chinese invented gunpowder ... and fire arrows.

Singijeon (The Divine Weapon)

Historical Drama / Korean with English subtitles

134 min. / Now playing


By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [hannahbae@gmail.com]

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