"It is a movie about sacrifice, courage, love, brotherhood, regrets, changes and all that adds up to a movie about humanity, in a much smaller scale seen through the eyes of 2 characters set in a big backdrop. It is a celebration of love at the end of the day. A movie with a content so wide and yet with a narrow focus, this movie knows what it wants to say and in the end said it effectively. What it wanted to say is really up to your interpretation."
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
I read at imdb.com it is actually Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo and in worldwide release the very long title is Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War which isn't exactly accurate since it is more like The Brotherhood AT, IN AND OF War.
By the way Taegukgi is the name of the South Korean flag. I wonder, is it "Dai Gok Kei" in Cantonese as in Great National Flag? Or something National Flag?
By the way, the title is supposed to spell as Taegeukgi.
Directed & Written by
The version I watched is Korean with Chinese/Malay subtitles. DVD version is Korean with Chinese/Malay/English subtitles, which was what I was looking for since it is not expensive and it comes with a free Making Of VCD. But I read in some reviews in imdb.com that some meanings of the language was lost in the English translation; like when brothers referred to one another, in Korean, Chinese as well as in Malay, the younger brother referes respectfully to the older brother as "hyeong" (was told this sounds suspisciously like Hokkien and I wonder maybe the Korean language may have it origin from Hokkien dialect with a touch of Cantonese, who know?) or "kor" (Cantonese), "bang" (Malay) which would all be translated to "Brother" in English but the translation wrote they called each other by their names. The dissenters are right; the punch is gone. Also read that there were some blatant spelling mistakes in the English verison. Frankly there were confusing mistakes in the Malay version I watched, but just a few. I suspect the Malay one is translated based on the English or Chinese one. And how accurate are these translations? Wished I could understand Korean. I am beginning to "hear" the beauty of the language, a lot of "sh" sounds and at some point sounds like one is about to spit out some phlegm but in a more inconspicous and ladylike manner of course. I love it when they say "yeaaaaa" for yes. Heard that a lot in Jewel In The Palace.
Jang Dong Gun .... Lee Jin-tae
Won Bin .... Lee Jin-seok
Lee Eun-ju .... Young-shin
And many other people with names I can't remember or no names. You know, casualties of war?
Taken from imdb.com
When a group of Korean archeologists find a skeleton and identify it, they call the brother, Lee Jin-Seok, who is now an old man, to tell him that they have found his brother's body, who died in the Korean War. We travel from the present to 1950, when the Korean War started. Jin-Seok and Jin-Tae, Jin-Seok's brother, are young men who suddenly find themselves catapulted into a bloody world so different from their quiet, rural lives. As the war progresses, the war begins to poison Jin-Tae's mind. Jin-Seok is lost when he finds that he no longer knows who his brother is.
It took me quite some time to finally get to watch this movie, some described as an honest, tough and brutal look of the forgotten civil war between the North (communists) and the south (democratic) Korea which resulted in the divided Korea we see today. It was even described as an epic war film. And it irks me big time that many westerners compared this movie with Saving Private Ryan. I wonder, except for the trembling hands that seem to control the hand held camera during the battle sequences, limbs and lives blown to smitherins much too often and the idea of war itself, I wonder where are the similarities with the rather mild Saving Private Ryan? Saving Private Ryan was an entertaining and at times touching movie and when it was released back in those days like a few years ago, it was noisy, harsh and rather brutal to watch. But Taegukgi is perhaps best described as 100 times more noisier, 1000 more harsher look on the concept of war and definitely a million times more brutal, with so much limbs and lives lost as well as blood splattered all over the place. Some may feel nauseous watching this movie, and I think mostly because of the filming technique during the war sequences which I really disliked but frankly I was quite appalled by the level of violence in this movie, which really is like no end to it all. And yet as I write this review I realised in a real war, the effects would probably have been a thousand fold worse than this movie so in effect, this movie successfully captured the essence of any war, and it is really only very small scale compared to what you might see in real life.
For a movie that takes it name from the national flag, very few scenes are ever focused on the flag itself. Not much we know of the origins, and not surprisingly for generation such as myself, I know very little of the Korean war except that George Bush Sr's plane was shot down and he was paralysed but recovered some time later. I also know that it happened in the 50s and that the Americans were involved. But what I didn't know was that China was involved as well, fighting together with their comrades, the North Koreans who were invading the South with their ideology of communism. I know very little of the background and frankly this movie doesn't even try to explain what, when, where and how. This movie is seen through the eyes of the ordinary citizens who may not care for a divided nation as their relatives may live just across the border and as long as they have food on their table and their children safe, which government that serves them does not really concern them; unless of course your whole family is killed by the communists or the other.
Anyway, the film started off with present time which zoomed back to 50 years before, starting with a rather sugary content, ice creams included in 1950 and for a duration of just 1 year or so and then zoom to 5 decades later again and zoom back.
For the first 10 minutes this movie took great pains to show to us how close the brothers are, and how much the older brother played by Jang Dong Gun is willing to do for his much younger brother played by Won Bin. We will know more of Jin Tae's sacrifices for Jin seok , like giving up on his own education to become a cobbler so that Jin seok could go to a good university to which Jin Tae tearfully acknowledges. And then we have a bit of romance that lasts only 2 minutes the most since women do not play an important role in this movie unless necessary to show a bit more drama, as if the entire movie's drama isn't enough. And then for the next 2 and a half hours or so, maybe minus 15 minutes we have one battle after another. First the younger brother was drafted in the most cold manner, like "Males between 18 to 30 please step out" and without an explanation, time to pack or to say goodbye, he was whisked away. Jin Tae followed because he wanted to find his brother and both were forced to join the army just like that. I always thought students, only male in the family and the sickly need not join but then these are desparate times I guess as we have 2 sons from a family joining the war by force. And immediately after we see them at the war zone fighting for their lives, limbs and sanity. I was thinking "Hold on! What about training scenes?" and it suddenly struck me that these men must have been given a helmet, a gun and some bullets and then told to shoot and kill without any training whatsoever. One scene you have one young inexperienced soldier accidentally shooting his own comrade, many others were starving with no food but surprisingly with enough bullets to shoot their way into the enemies' zone. We have careless doctors who are probably overworked and sadly, I can't see any stong influence of any commanders or those higher in rank. In fact I find them cold, impersonal and calculative, and they are from the same side.
Much of the movie is seen through the eyes of Won Bin's Jin seok actually, how he observed his brother being very protective of him, how this protectiveness changed into madness later on as he gains more and more glory. In his pursuit of a medal of honour as was told by a commander that that would give his younger brother, who was once stricken with heart disease a safe passage back home, he suddenly found fame and glory as a war hero. Jin Tae was after all not very well educated and he is only a cobbler so fame and all the attention soon got to his head. But in Jin Tae's cold but very gung ho approach in winning that medal which is always with the view of getting his brother home, but his brother misunderstood. It isn't hard to misunderstand Jin Tae since he was lost for a moment, as he became a mean green war fighting machine. He encouraged and even spurred the anti communists feelings by encouraging prisoners of war to fight or starve or worse, die, he would kill these prisoners who are unarmed and have surrendered and he even at the end ordered the death of a friend from the same village who was kidnapped and forced to fight for the North. Jin seok was deeply troubled by his brother's sudden change in behaviour and could not forgive his brother whom he called a murderer. And when Jin seok passed by his uncle's home which was the original destination that his whole family wanted to escape to, he saw Young Shin who was arrested for being a communists. She was, not for some political ideology but for food and she was killed in the presence of Jin Tae. The fact that the police of the south paid little regard to the fact that Jin seok was on their side or Jin Tae who was just been given a medal of honour or Young Shin was starving when she joined the party did not matter to these people. Young Shin was even accused of being a prostitute and she died begging Jin Tae to believe her which for a mere few seconds he didn't seem like he did. The coldness and cruelty of their own people treating them, whilst they fought in the war to maintain democracy was really a very hypocritical aspect in my opinion. The South are no more better than the North as the North are no more loyal to their regimes than the South.
When Jin seok was arrested, locked in a prison as suspected of being a communist and the prison cell set on fire on the orders of a commander whom Jin Tae was begging to release his brother, Jin Tae thought Jin seok died. We know he didn't because at the start of this movie, Jin seok was an old man looking for his long lost brother, Jin Tae when some archeologists or whoever was unearthing the skeletons of the soldiers of this forgotten war and found items belonging to a Jin seok . But Jin Tae thought he died and in a moment of extreme grief, he bludgeoned the commander to death and in a surprising twist, joined the North. At this point many complained the storyline became rarther melodramatic and ridiculous but if you're Jin Tae, I am sure you feel no more allegiance to your people who killed your fiancee and brother than you feel for the North.
The entire point of this movie is really not political. Neither Jin Tae nor Jin seok were political in their views, but they became political pawns so to speak. Their actions, especially Jin Tae was never motivated by politics. His eagerness to send his brother home was done out of love, and that explained by he became very gung ho in all his missions. And frankly you can't call those missions since no party was specifically formed for any specific purpose; they were just soldiers ordered to take out certain spots, the question is who runs towards the enemy first. Jin seok 's was at first timid but grew in time to become very critical of his brother, his actions motivated by his innocent and rather naive look at the war and the goodness of his heart. He never quite understood when in war, morality and logic has little to do with preserving one's own life. Jin Tae was the extreme of one side and Jin seok the other. I realise at the end of the movie, it never really said which side won the war, how it was won, when it ended or anything else about the war actually, except for the last scene where the Chinese army rushed through the fields, looking very dangerous and deadly.
Some may wonder at this point how a mere cobbler like Jin Tae could possibly complete such tasks without any serious harm? I wondered too with his constantly successful dodging of the hundreds of bullets flying everywhere, but I guess in the worst scenario, human spirit always triumph. What I didn't get was his shooting skills, very sharp and accurate which may mean Jin Tae may have been made for the military life.
Anyway, when Jin seok , who was unable to forgive his brother for the atrocities he committed or rather Jin seok blamed Jin Tae for most of it read a letter previously written by Jin Tae to his mother which was undelivered, Jin seok made a decision that will haunt him for the next 5 decades. He went back for his brother and he found Jin Tae who has now descended into the levels of a mad but wounded animal, too much in grief for his beloved dead brother. I am sure you will know the end but what I felt was very touching was a much older Jin seok kneeling down next to Jin Tae and crying "I shouldn't have left you there my brother, why have you now only come back to me 50 years later?" (maybe more than 50 years, I forgot the number of years). I won't believe anybody won't be moved to tears by these brothers' devotion to one another and the long wait. But Jin Tae kept his promise, he "came" home and Jin seok got back the pen his brother bought for him many years before.
It must be said that although the killings, bombings and loss of lives are rampant in this movie, this movie also manages to be very sentimental, at times too sentimental and melodramatic with some even more melodramatic musical arrangements which does not sit too well with me. I did find it corny at times but only for a short while. Somehow this movie made me feel guilty for feeling as such since the very next scene we have someone blowing their brains out. It's in your face and I appreciate the honesty and the straightforward way the war was depicted.
I must mention that the American's involvement in the war is represented by words and by the planes. Other than that I can't remember seeing a gwailo in this movie. But I guess this is so so that this movie will not change direction and focus.
Although at times the editing may be choppy, some fighting scenes seem like it will never ever end, the shaking camera very annoying, the length a tad too long and the story however interesting may not be flawless nor was the storytelling perfect, the performances for most of them were quite excellent if you ask me.
I am not talking about the other minor characters or those even with a name and a background. I find that they have very little personality and I didn't quite care for them really since they just make up the numbers in the platoon. I find myself emotionally detached from these characters who most of them are more cartoonish than real.
The only young actress to have a substantial role in here as Young Shin, Lee Eun-ju is somewhat flawed. I can't get over her very nice looking hair beautifully framing her face when she was supposedly going through hell. Her performance was nothing much to shout about and even her death scene wasn't really as touching as it should have been.
However the two main actors played their roles very very well.
I'll be the first to confess I have never seen Won Bin act before, have heard of Won Bin, am aware of how famous he is in TV Korean dramas and how many girls are swooning over the fact that he is cute. Yes, he is cute but boyish younger brother cute. He is to me not a good looking person but friendly looking in the ordinary sort of way. He is of course way better looking than most Korean man. But I like his performance in here. His character started out as scared, timid, young and inexperienced. As the movie moves along, he became opinionated, stronger and dared to question his brother's action. The way the actor was forced into the train at the beginning of this movie, meekly sitting there until his brother came abroad and tearfully and fearfully said "Kor" in Korean, the way he silently wrote his will with a dejected look earlier in the movie and how the brother just took the will and flung it aside, I find that all a very riveting performance. His ending scene as he pleaded with his brother that he was Jin seok and his tears and frustration as well as expressions though his face was by then covered in mud looked genuine and very effective. I find his performance top notch and his chemistry with Jang Dong Gun is so perfect, I would think that they may be loving brothers in real life!
But really, the real reason I bought this VCD was for Jang Dong Gun, having recently been bitten by the All About Eve bug, although it may be 5 years too late. Like I mentioned in my All About Eve review, I have seen very few of his works but I shall pay attention from now on. I must confess, I am his fan and to me he is a bona fide star, and he perhaps found more success as a movie star. Some people are just meant for the bigger screen I guess. He oozes with charisma and his chemistry with Won Bin was impeccable. He looked and behaved like a very protective and loving brother and when he descended into madness, well there is some over acting here, where it can be said also about Won Bin's performance. But I can't fault him for that, since his character was supposed to be mad by then, over acting only enhanced the effectiveness of his performance since it was a necessary type of over acting. He started out as fresh faced and good looking and towards the end he was ugly and scarred. But I must confess, I would think that he is not suitable to play Jin Tae because Jin Tae is described as rough but has a good heart. Jang Dong Gun is anything but rough. He has very long artiste like fingers, his face almost perfectly sculpted if not for his rather big bulging eyes and his tall figure framed by very wide strong shoulders didn't quite make me see him as rough. He is more like poetry in motion and he is more beautiful than good looking. So for me he didn't fit Jin Tae's description. BUT all that being said, his performance, although not his best since I am sure his best is still to come and not perfect as he was prone to extreme sides of emotions was still awesome in my humble opinion. The way his eyes shone with loving emotion at first which became cold and calculative stares to an empty stare towards the end to a stare of recognition and back to the old Jin Tae was really awesome work. This man works best when he is not required to speak a word as his eyes would fill in all the empty spaces left by his non-speaking moment. That is not to say he couldn't utter his lines decently. I didn't quite remember his voice in 2009 : Lost Memories (he spoke Japanese there) and I doubt I'll recognise his voice in The Promise due out in December 2005 (since he will be speaking Chinese!) but when he opened his mouth in this movie and uttered his first line, I was in awe of his deep barritone. In fact I am in awe of most top Korean actor's voices, Won Bin, Ji Jin Hee and Bae Young Jun included. But Jang Dong Gun's voice was something else and I absolutely love his voice. But I maintain, his eyes does the best acting in this movie.
I must add that I also admire his professionalism. Words had it that he broke his leg or foot earlier on whilst filming this movie. Instead of stopping production for probably a few months to go for surgery, he took pain killers and endured 10 months of possibly really bad pain in his leg to finish the filming. He did so without argument, without one word of complaint and believe me, he didn't look like he had any broken leg or foot in the entire movie and he was required to jump, walk, run, crawl, etc. This was after all a very physical role. He has my respect as well for choosing controversial subjects as his movies. But I am really in fear of his health as he took his dedication to his roles to such level. Did you see his new look for the movie called Typhoon where he plays a Pirate? He lost a lot of weight for that role, his cheeks very much hollowed and almost unrecognisable except for his infectious smile and it worries me. I of course love to see an actor so dedicated in looking like his part, but I just wish he would do it sensibly. I must also add, Won Bin has a very beautiful smile too but my heart is with Jang Dong Gun.
All that being said, this is one movie that is extremely loud, a tad too long, sometimes ultra melodramatic and exceedingly violent. But it is also a movie that does not take sides nor does it white wash the violent scenes so that we the viewers can stomach it a little. I agree with most reviews; that it is a tragic war epic, a brutally honest film and the subtitles did not stop me from enjoying this movie which is not only entertaining but thought provoking, very personal type of movie and with some great performances. It also helps it has 2 of Korea's most famous and adored actors who displayed their acting chops in here which justifies their positions in many female hearts. They're to entice women to watch what is essentially looking like a guy's film. But at the end of the day, this movie is beyond a war epic. As this movie shows, there is no glory in war. It is a movie about sacrifice, courage, love, brotherhood, regrets, changes and all that adds up to a movie about humanity, in a much smaller scale seen through the eyes of 2 characters set in a big backdrop. It is a celebration of love at the end of the day. A movie with a content so wide and yet with a narrow focus, this movie knows what it wants to say and in the end said it effectively. What it wanted to say is really up to your interpretation.
Very highly recommended. Buy it, worth adding to your collection.