'Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo' (Aka in America: 'Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War') **** (042505)
DVD Review (2004)

The Work = ****
South Korea is the new kid on the block for geeks into world cinema. Oh sure there has been South Korean cinema forever but lately some high profile films have come out that are garnering major world wide attention. Two of the most prominent of the high profile films were directed by Je-gyu Kang. The first was 'Swiri' ('Shiri' in America,) the second is this film, 'Taegukgi'.

'Swiri' had a lot of talent but I just couldn't get into it. The opening grabbed me but after that I really couldn't stay that into it. 'Taeguki', however, I enjoyed all the way through. Well, I enjoyed as much as one can enjoy a painfully dark war picture.

It seems that 'Saving Private Ryan' has to be one of the most influential movies in recent cinema. The brutal war footage, the washed out colors, the handheld cameras, and the high contrast pallet making the whites onscreen pop have become commonplace in war movies and hell, even in movies and television shows that have nothing to do with war.

Sure that look was around before but 'Saving Private Ryan' used it to the extreme and Steven Spielberg directed knock out action sequences. I thought the film's opening and closing did not work and some of the story elements were not so hot. It seemed almost disingenuous next to the film's action elements.

What Je-gyu Kang and his crew get from 'Saving Private Ryan' is the look, the book-ended opening and closing story structure and the brutality. That is about where the similarity ends. 'Taegukgi' tells the story of two brothers caught up in the Korean War in 1950. The movie follows the brothers who are forced by the South Korean government to enlist and fight against the communist North.

Over the course of a year or so the two brothers will go from young men to hardened soldiers. The older brother Jin-tae (played by Dong-Kun Jang) works on the street cleaning and repairing shoes so that he can help pay for his younger brother Jin-seok (played by Bin Won) go to school. When Jin-seok is picked up by the military in a draft raid Jin-tae goes to get him out and is drafted as well despite there being a law that only one brother may be drafted.

I remember reading that the Korean War had some of the bloodiest fighting in recent history and this film shows why that may be true. The country was ripping apart in a civil war with foreign support from different countries aligning either for or against communism. The trouble is, many of the civilians were drafted against their will. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time and woosh, here's your gun, go for communism, or woosh, go fight against it.

That is not to say that the soldiers didn’t believe in their cause. It is one thing to believe and support a cause and quite another to be told to face certain death and kill as many as you can for it. Actually, the film does a tremendous job of giving a window into just how blurred the line could be. For instance before the war the communist party used to hand out for in the South to help promote their cause.

Many were poor and needed to feed their families. They took the food as the communist party was giving it away. All the people had to do was put their names down. Flash forward to the ending months of the war. Those who put their names down are now rounded up and executed as communist traitors. Brutal stuff.

'Taegukgi', I think, goes on a little too long. There are twists towards the end that seem a little out of place in the film. Still as a whole it is a strong movie and parts of it were incredibly moving. I’m surprised that this movie didn’t at least get an Oscar nod. If you feel you can sit through a lot of graphic violence than I recommend Taegukgi, it is an often moving film.

DVD = ****

The Look
'Taegukgi' gets a great anamorphic transfer. The film is presented in it's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and the picture looked crisp and clear. Colors were seriously distorted but obviously that was the intent of the filmmakers, so as near as I can tell they are where they should be. There's a lot of action onscreen in this film and the transfer picks up all the details. Good job Sony.

The Sound
Well here's the thing with the sound. I watched the film with it's original Korean language soundtrack. To me, some of the effects sounded a bit on the weak side. I don't know if that is just the way the film is or if it is a result of the transfer. While I could hear everything ok, it just seemed like the sound effects during many of the sequences in the film could have been punched up.

The Bonus
There's just the film on the first disc. The second has all the bonus features. What we get is a collection of featurettes, some trailers (including the American one for 'Taegukgi',) and an image gallery. The featurettes vary in length and cover different aspects of the production. They are strictly "talking head" featturettes that show the interviewees talking and then interspersed footage from the film and behind the scenes clips. The one exception, is a featurette that is predominately behind the scenes footage with some interviews cut in. While these were often interesting (especially the one on the history of the Korean War, called 6.25 and Us) they were also very dry. I'm thankful Columbia Tri-Star (read: Sony) presented English subtitles on the featurettes but it is a shame there isn't some sort of narration or a more cohesive flow throughout them. They do have a lot of info on the production though and it is nice to see a foreign film release from a big studio that has a lot of supplements (and that they are translated too.)

All together = ****
'Taegukgi' is a moving film. It is extremely violent and many scenes were difficult to watch. For me, it might have gone on a tad too long but that is a minor complaint. The film focuses on a war that has gotten little to no attention from American cinema and shows sides of it that I was not familiar with. If you think you can stomach the violence than it is recommended.


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