My Way (Cert 18)
1 Disc (Distributor: Universal) Running time: 138 minutes approx.
In Japan occupied Gyeong-seong (modern-day Seoul), a rivalry between two competitive runners begins, which continues over the years, across a number of battlefields other than the race track.
Jun-Sik (Jang Dong-Gun) and his family serve the privileged Hasegawa family from Japan, with student Tatsuo Hasegawa (Jo Odagiri) sharing Jun-Sik’s passion for marathon running. In their later teen years a race to qualify for the Olympics sees Jun-Sik beat Tatsuo to win but the corrupt Japanese officials awards the race to Tatsuo, leading to a riot. As punishment the insurgent Koreans are forced to join the Imperial army to fight against the Russians in a territorial battle on the Mongolian border. Once again Jun-Sik is under Tatsuo’s command, with the latter doing his utmost to humiliate and torment Jun-Sik and his fellow countrymen. Things take an interesting turn when the army falls to the Russians and the two sides have to work together as equals.
After a seven year absence director Kang Je-gyu makes his return with a film that shares some themes with his last work, 2004’s acclaimed war drama Brotherhood (Taegukgi). With a massive budget of 28 million won, My Way surprisingly failed to repeat the success of its predecessor at the Korean box office; a shame as it’s fine film. One can only assume that it was either considered too close to the aforementioned Brotherhood or perhaps the multi-national aspect put off Korean viewers.
Based on true events, and along with other films set around this period in history, the Japanese aren’t exactly painted with much glory with their arrogant occupying of their neighbouring Asian countries. Whilst their campaign against the Chinese is well documented their stint in Korea has not received any cinematic attention until now. The rivalry between the two boys takes an unpleasant turn when at a Hasegawa garden party, Jun-Sik’s father (Chun Ho-jin) gives a hand delivered package to teenage Tatsuo which his grandfather realises is a bomb and uses himself to shield the explosion, dying in the process. In a blatant case of shooting the messenger, the father is immediately blamed and arrested where he is beaten so badly he is left a simple minded cripple while Tatsuo holds a grudge against the entire Kim family.
Following the enforced enrolment of the Koreans to the Imperial Army, the Japanese relish in terrorising the Koreans, with Tatsuo personally singling Jun-Sik out for abuse. After captured and made a POW by the Russians, Tatsuo proves he can dish it out by he can’t take it, especially when Korean Jong-Dae (Kim In-Kwon) is given a position of authority by the Russians and extracts some delicious payback. But this power goes to Jong-Dae’s head, creating more conflict among the ranks is created, with Jun-Sik trying to keep the peace. Under the law of “What comes around, goes around”, the Japorean soldiers are forced to fight for the Russians when Germany declares war on them, dragging our main leads down another path of bloodshed and conflict.
If anything, Kang Je-gyu has remembered that this was a world war, with no less than six languages being spoken throughout the film – Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, German and English. While the Koreans are ostensibly the nominal victims of the tale, Kang has taken care to make sure to rely the message quiet evenly that war can a make monster out of anyone and everyone. The Russians and Germans aren’t shown to be any more unpleasant and callous than the Japanese were at the start, although the irony of each army being forced to taste their own medicine is not lost on the viewer.
Korea’s Jang Dong-Gun and Japan’s Jo Odagiri dive headlong into their demanding roles, taking their characters on an incredible journey, over many years, different countries and emotional states. While the outcome of the story will no doubt appear obvious, Kang doesn’t rush the inevitable changes the two men go through, making them far more credible than a rushed 180 degree turn would. In the midst of this, Chinese actress Fan BingBing gets a little screen time as Shirai, a crack shot with a rifle (she can shot a helicopter out of the air with one bullet!), captured by the Imperial army after she takes out many of their men in revenge for their ravaging of China. A talented actress, her role appears to be to add some otherwise limited female presence in this film, possibly to balance out the abundance of testosterone on display.
As much as there is a moral message to be shared here, this is a war film and the battle scenes are very well done, easily on a par, not just with Brotherhood but with anything from Hollywood. Perhaps it veers a little close to the sentimental side with an occasionally schmaltzy soundtrack whining away in the background, and early on there is a heavy reliance on a quick edit, shaky camera style which is irritating, but overall this is a very well made and compelling war film.
If you liked Brotherhood then there is little reason why you shouldn’t like My Way too.
English SDH Subtitles
A Way To My Way
Rating – ****
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