Director Kang Je-gyu had taken off sevem years since his last attempt at an epic war film, “Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War,” which people had dubbed “the Korean ‘Saving Private Ryan,’” with the stage being the Korean War. That film and his film before that, “Shiri,” both broke Korean box office records. With that success he became the leading director in his country. While “Brotherhood” took place in Korea, 2011’s “My Way” is based on a supposedly true story of two men that deals with several large events leading up to the Normandy invasion, previously seen in Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” (more on that later).
This time Kang had the biggest budget committed to a Korean-made film. A sum of 25 million dollars.
“My Way” revolves around a rivalry leaden relationship between Japanese aristocrat Tatsuo Hasegawa (Joe Odagiri) and Korean native Kim Jun-shik (Jang Dong-gun). They first meet as kids and upon their introduction to each other they immediately race to prove which one is fastest. From there the film moves quickly forward showing a montage of them each winning races, furthering the rivalry. After a tragedy happens to one of the boy’s family members and changes the way the men feel about each other, the two men find themselves competing in an Olympic marathon race. Kim, as punishment for being the prime instigator in a riot, is forced to enlist in the Japanese army when news of imminent war has come. Tetsuo, by means of being a Japanese aristocrat, is the leader of the outfit Kim is assigned to. A big theme throughout the film deals with national pride and never bowing down to the enemy. The conflict between Korea and Japan is pervasive in almost every scene.
That is the initial lead up to the crux of the film: war on the battlefields. There are four major war scenes through the remainder of the story. And each one of them is visually different due to each of them taking place in a different country and in several different seasons. The scenes themselves are visceral and thrilling. Each one is accompanied by multiple grandiose camera angles, laying out massive amounts of chaos in breathless shots. There are many original moments that take place however there are also some not-so-subtle lifts from Hollywood movies such as “Saving Private Ryan,” “Full Metal Jacket” and most egregiously, “Pearl Harbor”’s initial missile drop camera shot is almost copied entirely.
But the cinematography is strong, and the stunt work also needs to be applauded. The actors and extras all look dangerously close to the explosions and other pyrotechnics. It unquestionably helps sell the brutality of the scenes. Some CGI work is peppered throughout the battles. For the most part it blends in nicely. It can be noticeable at times, but is not distracting. It is mostly used for creating additional vehicles and landscapes. This is an ambitiously shot film and credit should be given to the immensity of practical effects used.
I can’t attest to the accuracy the film portrays in regards to historic scenery and cultural behavior, but it feels believable. I will say that one aspect of the production that seems incredible is the violence that some of the characters endure. The amount of punches, pistol whips, clubbings and close-call mortar blastings these characters take to the face and body left me vicariously concussed.
To combat these battle scenes, there are many slow moments of camaraderie, pride and defiance that all lead up a certain catharsis. There are scenes of supreme melodrama that remind you that this is not just a visceral movie but one that also wants to sweep epically over your emotions. At times it seems a little heavy-handed and slightly oppressive, but it ends up being a fine harmony to the brutality the viewer also endures. The two leads are a very good job in their roles, pretty much ranging the whole field of emotions each. Dialogue is generically epic. By that I mean even the most dramatic moments in the film have dialog that pretty much states the obvious. But it is delivered well. One final word about the film. The last scene, taking place on the beaches of Normandy during the D-day invasion, looks so cinematically similar to “Saving Private Ryan” that you can almost watch it like a companion piece to that film, just told from a different perspective. It looks like Kang’s footage was shot at the same time as “SPR” and he made his own movie out of it.
Well Go USA presents “My Way” in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It was shot using the increasingly popular Red One Cameras and it shows. Nearly every shot looks crisp and clearly detailed. I watched the DVD up-converted on a PS3 and there were moments when it looked very close to Hi-def quality. There was some slight blocking in some of the darker scenes and fades to blacks that happen through the film. But overall, if you can only get this on DVD, it looks mighty impressive. It is a region 1 and I had no issues playing it on my North American PS3.
There are 4 audio tracks for the film. The main one is called Original Dolby Digital 5.1. It must be called this due to the many difference languages spoken throughout. This is the one I chose to listen to. Dialogue is clear –err, as far as I can tell. Let’s say it sounds accurately rendered. The war scenes are brutally depicted here sonically. LFE is intense and deep. This is a very lively and bombastic soundtrack. The swelling music is represented nicely all the way through. This is one of the best lossy soundtracks I have heard recently. The subtitles appear on the image and not in the widescreen area. There is also an English Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 option.
The extras on the disc are just above minimal. There is a “Making of” which is not too informative, as it is mostly a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the actual scenes being filmed. But it does give a small glimpse into some of the techniques used to film the movie. Aside from that the only other extra is a pair of interviews with the main character talking about their ideas of what the character should be. Kang also speaks about the genesis of the story and his worries about filming the intense war scenes. Lastly there are three different trailers for the film. The Theatrical trailer will give you a very accurate indication in what you are in store for.
Kang’s “My Way” is a sweeping, epic story that showcases some of the most aggressive war scenes ever filmed. Some of the melodrama seems forced but it also feels intentional to help balance it out. It is not a perfect film, as some of the dialogue is hammy and some character motivations are unclear, but it gets more right than it gets wrong. It’s a little light on extras; however, the audio and video are remarkable for being a standard DVD. If you like a little bit a history and drama with your heaping helping of action, then this one will do fine.