Tae Guk Gi: Brotherhood of War
(태극기 휘날리며)

korean war

Tae Guk Gi: Brotherhood of war (태극기 휘날리며)
Made in: South Korea
Language: Korean
Director: Kang Je-Gyu
Starring: Jang Dong-Gun, Won Bin, Lee Eun-Ju, Lee Yeong-Ran
Year: 2004

Synopsis: Seoul, 1950. Lee Jin-Tae (Jang Dong-Gun) scrapes together a living shining shoes to supplement the humble noodle shop run by his mother (Lee Yeong-Ran) and fianceé, Kim Young-Shin (Lee Eun-Ju). Jin-Tae's income also goes to help pay for the education of his younger brother, Jin-Seok (Won Bin), who's away at university.

While Jin-Seok is home visiting, war breaks out. The family, and just about everyone else around them, decides to pack up and leave. Amidst a jam-packed crowd at the nearest train station, a group of South Korean soldiers roll in and begin drafting young men to fight.

Jin-Seok is forcefully taken from his family, and stuffed aboard a train leaving for the front. Jin-Tae manages to find him, and tries to help his brother escape. But they get overwhelmed by the soldiers and thrown into the army.

Some time later...

As a soldier, Jin-Tae tries to persuade his superiors to send Jin-Seok home by volunteering for every dangerous mission. He doesn't care about anyone's ideology- he just wants out. But soon, Jin-Tae proves he has a talent for blowing up communists and finds himself not only promoted, but well on his way to becoming a war hero.

The fame gets to his head, and his relationship with Jin-Seok becomes strained as Jin-Tae begins changing into a hardened killer. But a brutal change of events causes Jin-Tae to change sides, and Jin-Seok makes a final effort to redeem his brother during a bitter battle near the 38th Parallel.

Remarks: Director Kang Je-Gyu does an outstanding job giving the viewer an up-close, unapologetic view of the Korean War. This is an anti-war film that looks beyond politics, convicting both sides of horrific atrocities.

Both Jang Dong-Gun and Won Bin are terrific lead actors, and the production value is on par with Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, although this movie is very different. Tae Guk Gi is an intense, highly realistic film that calls attention to an important period of history that, in many American textbooks, gets overshadowed by World War II and Vietnam.

Most directors of war epics don't simply make the point that "war is hell." They hammer it, and Tae Guk Gi is no exception. Although it's understood that this movie will contain a lot of violence, the gore, shootings, beatings, and graphic dismemberment prevalent in every action sequence (and there are MANY) really takes focus away from the human drama.

The graphic violence is not gratuitous nor glorified by any means, and I understand that Kan Je-Gyu is going for realism. But there are only so many Geneva Convention violations a viewer can take.

From a plot standpoint, too many things happen. The story of two brothers set against the backdrop of the Korean War is full of allegory and opportunities for creative analogies, but Kan Je-Gyu tries tackling too many of them.

Jin-Tae's role as "brother's keeper" to war hero abruptly changes the mood of the film, and causes the plot to meander. And by the time he turns traitor and joins the North, you'll wonder if this was two different war epics that mistakenly got spliced together.

There are also problems with logic. Little brother Jin-Seok is supposed to have a heart condition, and after surviving a few battles, it never bothers him again for the rest of the movie. There's an attempt at developing some of the peripheral characters as "war buddies," but they aren't all that interesting compared to the protagonists and you don't really feel for them after they get killed.

By the time Tae Guk Gi is over, your brain is likely to be pretty numb. And by the time the tear-jerking denouement rolls around, you might still be recovering from the last disturbing execution that occurred several scenes ago.

Who would like this movie: It's fascinating to see war movies from the perspective of a different country. Fans of foreign films, particularly war epics, will be interested in Tae Guk Gi.

This movie's also for you if you're a history buff with a special interest in Asian events and the Korean War. The cinematography and production design is very good, but be warned, this movie is stupendously violent and graphic.

(2 and 1/2 stars out of 4) - No disrespect to the events of the Korean War, but as a story, this one just goes in too many directions.

Review written by: Joe Yang

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