Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Way (마이웨이 / Mai Wei)


I guess I have Korean director Kang Je-Gyu to thank for sparking an interest in Korean films. No it wasn't any of the masters of old who got me hooked, but my first foray into Korean cinema on the big screen was actually to watch his Shiri, and while some may be of the opinion it's nothing more than a standard action thriller fare, it got me hooked, and to wonder just what more is out there in Korean cinema. And Kang went on to direct only 2 more films over a twelve year period, the first being the war movie Taegukgi, and now My Way.

So in a way, that makes it three films in a row that he's dabbled with men in uniform, exploring themes like brotherhood and friendship in blockbusters starring some of the biggest names in the industry. And in My Way, he teams up with Korea's Jang Dong-Gun, and Japan's Joe Odagiri who play rivals in Cain and Abel style, the former being a young boy working in the latter's family during the Japanese occupation of Korea, only for a terrorist incident to forever scar their potential friendship into deep hatred between the men, especially for Joe's Tatsuo against Jang's Joon-Sik. And their rivalry extends to their love for running long distance, almost always on par in countless of marathons they participate in.

The story written by Kang, Na Hyun and Kim Byung-In then centers the narrative against the run up to the Second World War, with the premise having to build up and culminate in Normandy during D-Day. So that takes the men, now in army fatigues with Joon-Sik being one of many Koreans forced to conscript in the Japanese Imperial Army, and under the arrogant, merciless leadership of Tatsuo in what would be convenience to further the two men's rivalry, especially when one is put in a lowly position, and the other having life and death powers over the man he loved to hate. The trio of writers managed to pack this film with enough incidents befitting any war movie, from POW imprisonment, disobedience of orders, torture and the likes, and playing on the theme of Karma, having what went around coming around to perpetrators. Not a very subtle approach though.

With a war setting, expect plenty of theatres of battles across different territories and under various banners and allegiances, such as the Japanese, Soviets, and Germans even, and you can tell where the money went into recreating their realism from uniforms, weapons and vehicles, together with the recreation of the Normandy invasion. Don't expect too much accuracy though if you think that D-Day and other battles, were won/lost in a few minutes, but one does get impressed by the effort to ensure that each battle got portrayed on as large a canvas possible, making it feel that the series of events the characters find themselves into, are far larger than their individual. There are times though that the editing and leaving of material on the cutting room floor had led to episodes being spliced together rather haphazardly, so that's a bit of a pity.

It's steeped in testosterone, if not for China's Fan Bingbing playing a bit role here as a sniper with vengeance against the Japanese at the top of her mind, and of course with her potential of opening up this film to the Mainland market. Other supporting acts include the good friends of Joon-Sik, such as Jong-Dae (Kim In-Kwon) who probably was the only supporting character given enough time for character development, and being somewhat of an in-between of the two men, offering a view of what each of them had, or could have, become. And this character alone demonstrates how adaptable Man can be when faced with circumstances that calls for that fine balance between morals, ideals and the basic need for survival. Recommended!

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