Note that during the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945, many Koreans were forcibly brought to Japan to work. Today, there is a substantial number of older Koreans who were actually born in Japan. — Ed.
Well-known actor Jang Dong Gun and director Kang Jae Kyu, who previously worked together on “Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War” (2004), are together again in yet another war film. “My Way,” tells the story of childhood rivals — one Korean and one Japanese — who later become friends through a number of turns of fate in World War II.
This is the first time a Korean film has tackled the topic of how some Koreans came to fight for Japan during World War II. It is said to be based on a real story, yet, the truth is that it was based on a single photograph of a Korean man with German captives in the Allied Forces’ military camp.
The plot touches on a broad range of themes, from friendship, to patriotism, from nationalism, to war, and even to marathons running. Yet, at the outset the film fails to plausibly link all these subjects together and moves at such a fast clip the audience can barely keep up.
Jun Sik (Jang Dong Gun) competes with Tatsuo (Odagiri Joe) to qualify for the Olympics and wins, but officials later disqualify him because he is not of Japanese descent. This triggers a riot amongst Koreans against Japanese officials and everyone involved, including Jun Sik and his friends, are arrested and conscripted into the Japanese imperialist army and sent to Russia (then the U.S.S.R).
A few months later, Tatsuo joins the Japanese army and fights alongside Jun Sik. Eventually they are captured by the Russian army and dragged to a prison camp. While imprisoned, Germany attacks, and so the two find themselves defending their captors against a Nazi onslaught. The Russians fail to repel the German army, so Jun Sik and Tatsuo then find themselves being forced to fight — this time for Germany — against the Allied Forces.
Despite the twists and turns of the plot, moviegoers would do well to concentrate on the character of Joong Dae, played by Kim In Gwon (“Quick” 2011, “He’s on Duty” 2010). Though only a supporting role, he creates a noteworthy character through his powerful performance. In a similar situation to Jun Sik — a Korean drawn into a war by association with Japan and later a POW — Joong Dae turns evil, and yet the audience can sympathize. He is not to be hated. He is not a perfect hero, but he depicts human nature better than any of the other characters.
The movie definitely grabs the audience’s attention with realistic CGI and other special effects. Notably, there are three major combat scenes: open field combat between Russia and Japan, street fighting between Russian and German forces, and the Invasion of Normandy (which will remind many of Steven Spielberg’s 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan”). Scenes of the Russian prison camp are also powerful.
The battle scenes are realistic, but frankly too brutal for this reviewer. Even as a war movie, I believe that war should not be depicted as an end in itself, but rather it should be a means to help the story and plot unfold. In this sense “My Way” failed. After leaving the theater, I found it difficult to recall the complicated storyline, though the action sequences were memorable.
The casting was also a stretch. The movie tried to kill three birds with one stone. It mainly targeted the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese movie markets by casting its three main actors from those three countries. Also, the Chinese actor Fan Bingbing’s role seemed completely peripheral to the plot — an afterthought included to pander to the Chinese movie market.
Though one cannot call it a pro-Japanese movie (as some Korean bloggers have suggested), it does fail to leave audiences with a sense of a well-rounded cinematic experience.
As for ticket sales, its performance has been comparatively lacklustre. “My Way,” cost 30 billion won (US$ 27 billion) to make and sold a little over 2 million tickets. By contrast, the Korean film “Punch” (2011) cost 4.7 billion won to make but sold almost 5 million theater tickets.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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