Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Way

So I have been in the mood to watch a really kick-ass pull-no-punches war movie lately. So rather than re-watch any of the number of war movies I have seen a dozen times like The Dirty Dozen or Full Metal Jacket, I decided to consult my handy dandy Netflix account. After some debating I decided on the 2011 Korean film My Way directed by Kan Je-gyu.

I honestly didn't know a thing about this movie going into it. There was the little blurb under the movie giving a brief description, but not much else. From that blurb I gathered this was going to be a fact-based story about two athletic rivals whose rivalry would take a turn once WWII began. Talk about vague, right? But I guess it sounded interesting enough. Although the two and a half hour length of the film made me wonder if I shouldn't choose something a little shorter.

But I went with it because if I didn't decide soon I would end up watching nothing of real significance.

We start out in Japanese-occupied Korea in 1928 where a Korean kid named Jun-shik and a Japanese kid named Tatsuo meet and quickly develop a sort of bond that competing athletes seem to do. But it doesn't seem that they hate each other. Not yet anyway.

Flash forward to when they are teenagers and Tatsuo's grandfather is killed by a bomb. A bomb coincidently enough given to him Jun-shik's father. Tatsuo ostracizes the Korean family even though it certainly doesn't seem that Jun-shik's father was really behind the assassination attempt. After that a rift forms. I suppose no one can be surprised by that.

Years later Tatsuo is a Japanese nationalist and Jun-shik is a lowly rickshaw runner despite once being a talented runner. At this time Koreans are banned from participating in sports events. That is, until a chance encounter pits Jun-shik and Tatsuo on the track field once again. 

What happens after that... Well, it is pretty unbelievable. Unless you know that there is at least an element of truth in the story. Sort of. 

This story is inspired (to a degree) by a real life man named Yang Kyoungjong who happened to serve in the Imperial Japanese Army, the Red Army, and then finally the Wehrmacht before being captured by American paratroopers on D-Day. Naturally, Yang was forced into these armies each time after being captured and placed into work camps. If not for a shortage of manpower, Yang would undoubtedly have stayed in one of those camps instead of being forced into the army. But things didn't happen that way. 

And Jun-shik's journey parallels this journey to a degree.

While there is a lot of Hollywoodization about the exact history behind this movie (D-Day looks like it was over in about five minutes), the drama we are presented with is intense and the war violence indeed graphic. I mean, this is a Korean movie after all.

This film was also made on a big budget at about the equivalent of 24 million American dollars, making it one of the most expensive Korean films ever made. And this movie flopped despite being simultaneously released in Japan and Korea, barely breaking even. However, this movie is really good. It flopped, but it is still damn good. I'd sure as hell rather watch this movie than Pearl Harbor or U-571.

Perhaps this movie failed because, unlike most blockbusters built on extravagant budgets, this film is not an easy watch. It's not a popcorn movie. And it will piss you off. I guarantee you that Tatsuo, portrayed brilliantly by "bad boy" Japanese actor Joe Odagiri, will piss you off so much that you will want to strangle the motherfucker. I mean, for the first half of the movie I wanted to hide a hand grenade in his shorts. Then in the second half... Well, you just gotta see this movie or else you won't believe me. 

Jang Dong-gun plays the Korean lead Jun-shik in this movie and he does so very well. Jang is actually one of those guys that has that kind and gentle image in real life (one of the reasons he's one of Korea's highest paid actors) and this image helps in this movie. You just know he's the good guy and the hero just by looking at him. Not quite Cary Grant, but still the vibe is there. 

Fan Bingbing is a Chinese actress and her role in this movie is fairly small, but it is an important one. In fact, I think she is just about the only woman in this movie. So yeah, My Way is a testosterone-fest, but Fan's character is pretty memorable. She's pretty hot, by the way. Since she's in a prison cell and dressed in rags for most of the movie you might not be able to tell. But she's hot. (I can't wait until she makes her American film debut in X-Men: Days of Future Past as Blink, either.)

Kim In-kwon portrays Lee Jong-dae, Jun-shik's childhood friend. He, too, was imprisoned and then conscripted into the Imperial Army along with Jun-shik. But their paths soon differ and Jong-dae's subsequent turn of character would undoubtedly be the most impressive in the entire movie if not for a certain co-star stealing his thunder. But Lee Jong-dae is great as the loveable yet oafish friend and that makes his changing even tougher to see. 

All in all, this is a well-casted movie. The German and Russian actors don't really get a lot of characterization or screen time comparatively, but they do what they have to do well. And the only U.S. actor is seen with a snarling face before he his killed without ever saying a word. I wouldn't call this a detractor, but aside from the special effects I'm not sure how much of this movie a more Western audience would find appealing since the focus isn't on us or how awesome we are. 

Anyway, this is a damn good movie. Is it a great one? I don't know. It sure isn't bad, though.

Watch it. 

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to check it out. I like foreign war movies because you get a war story told from a different perspective other than an American one.