An old man (Seong-hwang Jeon) lives on a boat in the ocean with a teenage girl (Yeo-reum Han). He makes his living by allowing fishermen to use the craft, but they're always gossiping about the relationship between him and his companion; some say that she has been with him on the boat since she was a little girl and when she turns seventeen in a couple of months' time, he plans to marry her. However, the old man is a dab hand with a bow and arrow, which he not only uses to keep order on his boat, but for prediction as well... so what does the future hold for this odd couple?
Enigmatic as ever, what the credits proudly proclaim as "The 12th Kim Ki-duk Film" is keen to keep its secrets about precisely how symbolic it all is. Scripted by the director, at first sight it looks to be a simple tale of one character refusing to let the younger one spread her wings, but judging by the bizarre ending, it's difficult to fathom the old man's motives which perhaps were not as clear cut as they initially seemed. In those opening scenes, he patiently crosses off the days to the "wedding" on his calendar, but soon he will grow tetchy.
The girl (nobody in the film has a name, not one we are privy to at any rate) is happy with her limited existence, and goes to some lengths to protect her lifestyle which involves hanging around on the boat, playing the old man's musical instrument and being washed by him every night. One of the motives for the fishermen to visit the boat is that not only are they assured of a good catch, but they can have their fortunes told into the bargain. This has the girl swinging over the side while the old man fires arrows near her from the smaller boat, always missing.
We never hear the duo speak, so when they do have to say something to other characters, like the outcome of their fortunes, they whisper it. All is going swimmingly for the old man until one day a young student arrives to fish with his father and the girl takes an instant liking to him, borrowing his headphones to listen to music. By this time the old man's reaction to anyone who takes an interest in his fiancée is getting comical: everyone gets an arrow shot at them eventually, although they are warning shots and he never hits anyone.
But the damage has been done and the fact that the student (Si-jeok Seo) objects to the old man's designs on the girl acts as a catalyst to the breakdown of their happy floating home. The student is of a more appropriate age than the older sailor, for a start, so those uncomfortable scenes where the old man exhibits his possessiveness give way to the girl pulling away from him and looking forward to seeing the student again. Beautifully filmed on one location, a stretch of sea (we never see the land), The Bow, or Hwal as it was originally known, has a fable-like quality that makes up for a slight story and an ending which has its cake and eats it too in its own strange way. Lovely music by Eun-il Kang.
[Tartan's Region 2 DVD has behind the scenes footage and trailers as extras.]