"It takes a very brave writer to write such an original and imaginative script. The entire premise of the story may be offensive to some. Japanese may feel this movie insults them, whilst Koreans may feel this movie distorts the very fabric of the truth we all knew. But frankly, the entire premise of this movie is built on two words; What if"
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
The characters' names in this review was taken from various sources as this reviewer herself did not quite catch their names.
Lee Sang-hak & Lee Si-myung
Mostly Japanese, some times Korean. The version I saw had English subtitles.
Kil-Kang Ahn - Lee Myung-Hak
Jang Dong-Gun - Masayuki Sakamoto
Tôru Nakamura - Shojiro Saiko
Jin-ho Seo - Hye-Rin Oh
Goo Shin - Takahashi
I do not profess to know much about the history of the deep hatred that Koreans has for Japanese but according to this movie, the following events happened;
In 1909, Korean nationalist An Chung-Gun assassinated Japanese statesman Ito Hirobumi, which set in motion the Korean Nationalist cause, where Korea sought independence only to fall into civil war and Korea divided into South and North Korea whilst Japan went into WWII with disastrous results where many people (Chinese, Korean, etc) were murdered and A-boms dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thus ending what I would call a war that the Japanese deserved to have those A-boms dropped on them As we all know now as the present and true history, that was what really happened. But what if that wasn't what happened? What if, in 1909 the assassin was killed before he could complete his mission and the statesman didn't die? What if Japan later on combined power with USA in WWII, became an ally, dropped the A-bom on Berlin (Nazi Germany) thus ending WWII, Korea never achieved independence, China, Manchuria, Korea all fall into Japan's rule even until the year 2009?
This is the very premise of this movie. What if Korea falls under the Japanese rule?
The movie started in year 2009 where a group of 10 Korean terrorists (or freedom fighters) in an organisation called Hureisenjin burst into an exhibition and all 10 died being killed by JBI (equivalent to FBI) which started a motion of investigations which led to an even bigger conspiracy, At the centre of this conspiracy lies two good friends, one a Japanese named Saiko and another, a Korean (now considered a Japanese) named Sakamoto (with a very Japanese name). These two had been friends for years, where Saiko's wife was Sakamoto's object of infatuation when they were younger. But Sakamoto always had this vision of a young girl whose face he could not clearly see wearing a crescent shaped pendant he could not recognise. After the death of the 10 terrorists, he began to wonder why 10 men were willing to sacrifice themselves for something the even the JBI did not know about? Dots after dots were connected and then Sakamoto realised they were after a Korean artifact used in rituals, such crescent shaped object was actually owned by a group called Inoue Foundation, a very powerful and influential group. When Sakamoto decided to dig deeper into the mystery, his past began to haunt him as his father who was involved in an investigation of an act of terrorism by Hureisenjim many years before was falsely accused of receiving bribe from such terrorist group and was subsequently killed. Sakamoto was himself ashamed of his past when he realised something was amiss. Sakamoto was then framed for the murder he did not commit and he realised, all the people he called his colleagues in the JBI was turning against him, and Saiko too was after Sakamoto, wanting to kill him under the orders of his superior and proclaiming that they were now enemies. Sakamoto narrowly escaped and found himself face to face with a very familiar face whom he could not name, someone he thought he knew once in his deep recesses of his memory and the girl helped him in return, as they were all Koreans. When Sakamoto saw with his own eyes the many deaths that ensued and he heard the truth why the JBI was so keen in killing him, he knew he must stop JBI and the Inoue Foundation. Saiko too knew of the truth and the conspiracy, where the chairman of the present Inoue Foundation used the crescent shaped artifact to travel back in time to change the real history to what was the history in the movie's premise. Sakamoto, having seen all his comrades and the girl he thought he knew died before his eyes went into the time portal to right the wrongs and Saiko with some hesitation jumped into the one way portal with no return to stop Sakamoto from destroying the history and the present he knew.
Will Sakamoto succeed before Saiko got to him first? Will history correct itself?
It takes a very brave writer to write such an original and imaginative script. The entire premise of the story may be offensive to some. Japanese may feel this movie insults them, whilst Koreans may feel this movie distorts the very fabric of the truth we all knew. But frankly, the entire premise of this movie is built on two words;
I find these two words very intriguing and after having watched this movie, I too wonder, if I am faced with such a truth, will I do a Saiko (meaning preserve the history I knew) or a Sakamoto (correct the history to what it really was). The problem is the choice isn't very obvious.
The year 2009 we see in this movie had what was a false history, and Sakamoto and Saiko at last realised the truth of such lies. But for me, the lie in the end became the truth. Whilst I could write a thesis on whether the 2009 world is a real world or a false real world, I would not debate on such a deep issue. Let me get back to the movie itself. But i must note it will take a Korean to appreciate the impact of the changed future because this movie does not really dwelve into the anomisity of these two nations so those who doesn't know the history would not understand why it is so important to correct the past.
Anyway, excellent premise of a movie, the problem is actually the overzealous art director who seemed to work overtime on the cinematography, including the wind blowing on the bamboo, leaves everywhere, slow-mo in all shootout scenes. This movie is long, and the entire interesting premise was stretched to even a longer time that at times I felt the movie was tedious, and quite boring. The only two reasons I sat through all the endless shootouts and endless freedom fighters vs JBI officers is because of Jang Dong-Gun and I wanted to know the ending for Sakamoto and Saiko. Actually I would think these two factors is enough for any fan of Korean/Japanese movies to sit through the rather confusing plot (at first) to know the deeper meaning of this movie.
Like I have said above, the writer was very brave in speculating what could not have been and making it, weaving it into a believable past and present of this movie. The beginning scene was excellent, where the false history was presented and you will read every line confused, as that wasn't the history we knew. The explanation seems logical and possible, though don't expect an in depth explanation on the function of the crescent shaped artifact or any time travel notions. Just take it as it is, and enjoy the other posed questions of what ifs and believe me, you too will leave the cinema wondering, what if the present we knew is false, what if we live in a present which was built on a false past. would we change it or would we maintain it? To me, the false past has indeed become the real present but then that is a very academic question. When you're the oppressed Koreans you too would want to fight for your independence.
Frankly I am on neither side. I may be too young to say this but after WWII and what the Japanese did to the Chinese, I really don't care much for what their past, present will be in this movie however much I like Saiko and I may be childish to say thus, but after the obviously rigged World Cup games in Korea/ Japan year 2002, I really don't care if the Koreans is a slave to the Japanese in the present world. But for the sake of China that in this movie fell into the hands of Japanese, I guess I'll be Sakamoto.
And one point I do like about this movie about all others. Korean Sakamoto has a very Japanese name, he works for JBI, he eats Sushi, he lives, walks and talks like a Japanese but in the end, he became a Korean fugitive. Sad isn't it?
Anyway, interesting that this movie is made by a Korean when the dialogue and the actors, if I am not mistaken are mostly Japanese. It is quite amazing though the Japanese were not offended with this movie but I do wonder, did it do well in Japan?
When Sakamoto befriended a tough little Korean boy (I thought the boy was a girl, why on Earth he looked like a girl?) who was shot by JBI before his eyes and he saw the pictures the little boy was trying to cling on to, the pictures of the little boy and her father. His father was one of the 10 men Sakamoto killed, and that was when that man screamed at Sakamoto, branding him a traitor to the cause of the Koreans freedom fighters who were trying to correct history. When Sakamoto realised that he killed the boy's father and the boy dying before his eyes, he snapped and he screamed. That was a very good scene, very emotionally charged.
The almost ending scene where Saiko and Sakamoto faced off in the past of 1909, with Sakamoto pointing his gun at the chairman of Inoue Foundation who was in turn pointing his gun at the assassin who was pointing his gun at the Japanese Statesman. On top of that, Saiko was pointing his gun at Sakamoto. It was a question who starts the firing first and it was indeed because either way Saiko or Sakamoto had to die making sure history remains as it is, whether from Sakamoto's point of view or Saiko's point of view.
The very end scene in the modern year of 2009 in Korea where a little girl saw the picture of Korean heroes in the past who helped achieved Korea's independence and well...just look out for that scene.
Most Favourite Scene
Every time Jang Dong-Gun's left or right side of his face facing the screen. As a woman, I can't help but melt at the sight of his handsome side profile.
Very high body counts, until I lost count. Honest! The shooting just went on and on and on and worst of all, all in slow-mo which tends to make this whole movie tedious. The reason why this movie was 130 minutes long was because 45 minutes or so was spent on slow-mo shoot outs where JBI officers and terrorists kept dying and dying, bullets kept flying everywhere. A bit unrealistic in this aspect.
I only know two actors, the rest are gave credible performances.
Japanese actor playing what else but Japanese Saiko. He gave an impressive performance though compared to Jang Dong-Gun, he had very little screen time. At times his Saiko seemed confused, but in the end I could understand why he went all the way to stop Sakamoto. After all, the history you know may not be the real history, but for years you knew it as real, so being a true patriotic Japanese, however ill gotten the present history may have been, Japan being a super power and all, even as an honest Japanese, you can't let it all go down the drain. In that aspect, he played Saiko's dilemma and determination well. You can't blame his Saiko.
I have heard a lot of this Korean heart throb, the star of All About Eve and many more. Seen his pictures only twice or so, heard about his Chinese features (plus a very Chinese name, Zhang Dong Jian) and his handsome face. Saw the movie poster and had to agree, both the stars looked good, stylish. And then I saw this movie. Let's just say I am determined to watch all his Korean TV series. Not only did he spoke good enough Japanese (he' a Korean by the way), he played his character Sakamoto with enough of confusion, hatred, pain, confusion, guilt and ultimately regret with so much human emotion, I thought "well well well, this is a bloody good dramatic actor without being overly dramatic". It helps of course he has such a beautiful profile, isn't skinny without any body shape and he has a very deep voice, though he didn't speak much in this movie. He could do the action sequences very well and very convincing to boot and best of all, best best best of all, did I mention he is eye candy to me? You know, sweet to look at? Whilst my review wouldn't have much credibility if I based my entire observation and comments on his good looks but I must admit, he is a very Chinese looking and a very good looking Korean actor, better looking in fact than Bae Young-Jun BUT both as good in the acting departments, thought I personally feel Jang Dong-Gun is a slightly better and more varied actor. I read that he took months to learn his lines in Japanese, and mind you whilst this movie may be tagged as a Korean movie, the dialogue is 80% Japanese, and he spoke 90% Japanese. I would say his effort was commendable and really, a fan of his will love this movie. After all, he is the hero in this movie.
A definite must buy for any fans of Jang Dong Gun and action genre. If the guys do not interest you or the story does not excite you, at least the stylish direction will interest you a little so as to encourage you to watch this movie from start to the end. This movie could have been so much more but as it is now, it's really entertaining.
A Question To All
Will you be a Saiko or a Sakamoto?
If you're wondering the following, fret not Funn is here!
Who is that girl Sakamoto kept seeing in his dreams?
Definitely not the present girl in the false present. She is actually from the real past, perhaps some relatives of the present girl in the false present. The reason why Sakamoto had memories of her is because after all, time travel is like jet lag you know, there are some side effects. You may remember stuff which may have happened in the past but the past has yet to materialise. Confusing eh?
An update [11.09.2005 ]: Saw the movie again and I remember it was mentioned that the new future knew about the real future because a female reseacher was dragged into the time travel portal and lived until old age. Could it be that Sakamoto was a reseacher together with this woman he saw in his dreams, like some vague buried memory? Try not to over exert yourself on this point since the director did not even bother to clear this confusion.
Was Sakamoto's father really a cop who took bribes from the Korean terrorists?
No. His father actually tried to travel back in time to change the course of history into the original history but was killed instead. He was then defamed by the Japanese counterpart.
So Saiko and Sakamoto can't go back once they crossed the time portal?
Is Korea doing better now in the real present than in the movie's false present?
Nobody wants to be subjected to the governance of some country other than your own, so I guess South Korea is doing better now. But please do not remind me of 2002 World Cup.
When the real past was changed into the false past, we see the present 2009. If Sakamoto changed it into a real past what would that mean?
It would mean some people may not exist, like Saiko may not have existed, etc etc etc. Like I said, time travel is tricky, the end may be the beginning and the beginning may be the end. I myself is confused.
Is there such a thing called time travel?
I do not know but I believe you can travel into the future but you can't travel to the past. What's done is done. You can't turn back time because time is constant and time moves only forward, never back works, even if I were to rewind the clock to 3 pm when it is actually 5 pm, what I am doing in effect is cheating myself that this is now 3 pm and not the real 5 pm. Why cheat yourself when you can just admit, it's 5 pm now and I so I must do something to make sure by the time it's 6pm I have not wasted 1 hour of my time thinking how to turn back to 4 pm. And quite frankly I don't think you can even time travel to the future come to think about it since the future has yet to happen and so how can one travel to an uncertain timeline?
So how did Saiko and Sakomoto and that chairman of the organisation travelled back in time?
Using the crescent shaped object. But don't expect this movie to explain how. Just appreciate the premise of the story and forget about logic.
So who was the man who assassinated the assassin who tried to assassinate the statesman in the beginning scene?
The chairman of Inoue Foundation, though we thought it was his great great grandfather or something. Actually it was the same man who traveled back in time to stop the important assassination which sparked the Korean revolution so to speak.
So were those dead Koreans terrorists or freedom fighters?
Depends on how you see them. Muslim world may view Al-Qaeda as freedom fighters, crusaders but we all see them as terrorists. The line there is more obvious but in this movie, it may not be so clear. Like someone once told me, a freedom fighter to a man may be a terrorist to another.
Is it possible for the little boy to live again in the real future?
It's a hopeful and optimistic ending. But let's not forget, there was a very bloody civil war after the events in this movie so in most probability this boy may not even exist as his grandpa may have been drafted and then killed in war. But again it is an optimistic ending though I have my own preferred ending, however impossible that may be.
The ending scene showed the little boy as a young student visiting the museum and saw Sakamoto in a picture of freedom fighters. Frankly, I would prefer that Saiko now a tourist in Korea with his wife and daughter Keiko looking over the pictures and saw Sakamoto and somehow he thought he knew this guy. I mean I like Saiko and I want him to have a good end you know.
Interesting Drool Factor
I just had to put this lovely side profile of a picture here. Notice the ultra stylish glasses, and their serious expressions. Notice they're actually at eye level but in the movie I kinda thought Jang Dong-Gun is about half a head shorter than the Japanese actor. Anyway, girls, together now...sighhhhhhhhhh