Review: MY WAY (Korea)

By Laurie Coker

Rating: C+

Rarely do I have opportunity to see foreign films, until that is, award season and there is simply never enough time. Recently, I receive a screener for the film My Way (the English translation of the title), from Korean director Je-kyu Kang, who co-wrote the screenplay. What begins and ends with the themes of conviction, honor and friendship, plays out as one of the most graphic and intense war movies I have ever seen – right up there with Saving Private Ryan.

The story follows a Korean marathon runner (played by Jang Dong-Gun) and his fierce rival, a marathon-running Japanese army officer (Joe Odagiri) and their incredible WWII experiences. The relationship, events and encounters are all based on a true story – one that pits friend against friend, them against their enemies and allied forces against the Germans. In fact, the film sets out one bloody battle after another, having our protagonist and his Korean comrades up against the Japanese Imperial Army (to which they are forcefully drafted), the Soviets (after becoming prisoners of war) and the Americans at Normandy (fighting with the Germans, in hopes of getting home).

Visually, this film amazes, offering graphic, detailed renditions of war, but talk about overkill, and I mean that pun – bullets, bombs, tanks, wreck bodies by the second (for nearly two hours of the 137 minute runtime) and at one point, after seeing countless die, heads and bodies eviscerated, and a man lose his legs to tank tracks, I thought “when will it end.” Because of this intensity I nearly stopped watching, but then I wanted to know, given the true story aspect, how this all turned out, how these men could survive the horrors they face for years.  That said, however, the underlying story of two competitive runners (presented at the beginning with an Olympic marathon snippet) of Kin Jun-Shik  (Dong-Gun Jang) pulling ahead in the race. The boys meet as children (one poor the other rich) and one tragic even divides them, so after Kin Jun Shik beats former childhood friend and rival Japanese Tatsuo Hasegawa (Jô Odagiri), all hell breaks loose – literally.

Director Kang Je-Kyu excels in his action scenes, and when it comes to his more personal sequences, he lays on a little thick too.  Some are overly sentimental – making me wonder about his source material. Still, I appreciate the quality of filmmaking to create such realistic war footage. When noticeable, the film’s soundtrack did little to add anything and in fact, it enhanced the sappier moments, which is not necessarily good.

One more thing of note is Kang’s attention to linguistic detail, having Germans speak German, Russians Russian and so on. My eyes were glued to the screen, so reading was not much of an issue. It will be for some. Its audience will be limited, since it is subtitled and oh so very graphic. While I found several faults, especially in storyline, My Way’s cast is strong and visuals uncomfortably perfect, I must try give credit to all that is good about the obviously R-rated My Way, so I am placing a C+ in my grade book. That’s better than average.

 

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