South Koreans have a way with film. In the last decade, they’ve had a particularly good run at presenting war stories, some from the World War II era and many others exploring the Korean War. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing several of them – each one perhaps a bit better than the last – and now I can add MY WAY to the burgeoning list of accomplishments. It’s a big budget critical success that opens your eyes to the plight of people who find themselves equally at odds with themselves as they do the greater world around them.
At a time when Japan ruled a smaller Korea, Kim Jung-shik (played by Jang Dong-Gun) and Japanese aristocrat Tatsuo Hasegawa (Joe Odagiri) find themselves as bitter young rivals to the upcoming Olympics. When Kim and his fellow residents rebel against the Japanese authorities after stripping the young man of a chance to represent his country, they’re all conscripted into the Japanese army. Their fates collide again as Kim’s regiment is assigned to Tatsuo, now serving his country as an officer. When both are seized by the Soviets in a bloody battle, they’ll slowly learn to trust one another again until they’re separated by the invading German army. Eventually, they’re reunited at Normandy Beach, only days before the fateful invasion of the Allied Forces, when destinies collide in this epic story of survival.
And it is a truly epic film. MY WAY features some powerful performances by all of the principles as well as some fantastic filmmaking at work on all levels. Director Je-kyu Kang has produced a masterpiece that explores personal conviction and redemption against the backdrop of the international stage. War is arguably the most horrific form of conflict to explore stories of one’s humanity, but the script (which he co-wrote with Byung-in Kim) gives everyone here the chance to explore who they are as individuals as well as members of a greater society. Kim and Tatsuo end up drivers of their own cruel fates as they are victims of their time, always conscripted to serve some greater enemy. Where others sell out their souls in order to secure momentary freedom, these two men remain tied to their own convictions – big or small, right or wrong – and they suffer the consequences of their own prejudices. However, along the way, they manage to retain as much of their dignity as the circumstances allow, and they prove once again that even in the darkest of times there is some goodness to be found in the unlikeliest of friendships.
As for the completed product? The cinematography is breathtaking, at times, and heart-breaking at others. It’s the kind of visual mix reserved for blockbuster films, of which MY WAY definitely deserves to sit side by side. The director clearly went to great lengths to capture these various terrains – the stark beauty of open fields, the harsh claustrophia of the Russian winters, the majestic swells on the beaches of Normandy – and adapt them to the message of each sequence, and it all looks solid and impactful. The musical score is equally impressive though perhaps a bit derivative at times.
MY WAY was produced by Directors, SK Planet, and CJ Entertainment. DVD distribution is being handled through Well Go USA. The disc looks and sounds exceptional – the picture is stunningly crisp, and the audio is a terrific mix for both the big and the smaller elements. As is often the case with some of these foreign releases finding distribution in the US, there aren’t tons and tons of special features, but, thankfully, MY WAY has a solid few: there’s a ‘making of’ featurette along with some behind-the-scenes material, cast interviews, and a director interview. Also, there’s an English-dubbed track which I found helpful given the fact that there are sequences of some rapid-fire dialogue that just doesn’t give this ol’ pair of eyes enough time to read all of it. It clocks in at an impressive 143 minutes, but you wouldn’t know it; it never felt overlong or overwrought in the slightest, as the focus retains a personal edge throughout.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. MY WAY continues to string of terrific war-related films out of Korea. Culturally, their artists have latched on to a winning, compelling formula of delivering tales of great conflict alongside some tragic and triumphant personal narratives. Granted, there were a few sequences – one tinged with fairly predictable character-based humor – that ‘cheapened’ a few moments, but they’re very, very small (and completely forgivable) when compared to the epic scope of the picture. MY WAY walks that line with excellent balance – it’s as frightening as it is inspiring – and it’s easy to see why the NYC Movie Guru dubbed it the “most powerful war film since SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.”
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the good folks at Well Go USA provided me with a DVD screener copy of MY WAY by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
The South Korean film “Tae Guk Gi: Brotherhood of War” earned accolades from both international and domestic critics in 2004. It was director Kang Je-Gyu’s follow up to 1999’s box-office smash “Shiri”, another film that portrays the tension between the Southern and Northern sides of Korea. It is curious why director Kang waited 7 years to follow up his filmmaking success, but hey, better late than never. Well, Kang Je-Gyu may have abandoned the themes of tension … more