PictureBrotherhood is presented in a glorious 2.35:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. Shot using the same de-saturated colour palette and step-printing editing as Saving Private Ryan, we get a similarly gritty, visceral visual offering. The detail is superb with clarity throughout despite an intentionally heavy layer of grain. The colour palette is slightly bleached and restricted - again intentionally - but the scenes never fail to convey the brutality of the conflict and the harshness of the sometimes snow-swept mountainous terrain. Overall it is a superb transfer, making the most of issues that would be problems for most transfers but here only go to enhance it.
SoundWe get several magnificent audio tracks for this release, unfortunately on the rental copy that I was given to review there was just one track - the main Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in the original Korean language with optional English subtitles that were largely good. This mix is pretty full-on, with dialogue - often shouting - coming clearly through the frontal array and the moving score carrying you through the voyage, again primarily from the fronts and centre. In fact, the rears are kept almost solely for ambient effects (tanks rolling past, people cheering etc.) leaving the rest of the channels to bear the brunt of this movie. Luckily whenever a skirmish or an all-out confrontation erupts, this mix somehow manages to pull everything together and create a world of mayhem and explosions, bullets whizzing around you and shells shattering the ground before you - and that's exactly what you want with a war movie. The final retail discs should also contain a DTS mix in Korean along with a Dolby 5.1 track in English, obviously dubbed.
ExtrasThe first disc is supposed to contain a commentary by Asian Cinema Experts Bey Logan and Mike Leeder but unfortunately I was only supplied with the rental version so I could not listen to the commentary. Being familiar with many Logan commentaries, I would suspect that he is at his usual fast-talking best, hopefully assuaged by the presence of another person with whom he can interact. It's a shame because this is one of the more important films that I would have liked to have heard a commentary for, still those who purchase the set should be happy with the end result.
The second disc is split into three sections - The War Room, Making History and Ministry of Propaganda. In the War Room we get a ten-minute 'Battle Plans' sequence which is basically a storyboard-to-screen comparison for several key scenes: praying to their father, departing on the train, first clash, first losses, political executions and the final confrontation. The crudely drawn storyboards fairly closely match the final product and it is quite nice to see some of the original ideas seen through to fruition.
Next in the War Room we get Special Operations, a twelve-minute featurette boasting interviews with a couple of the major crew members, talking about their work on the film. The director notes how long it took him to put his plan into action and one of the producers recalls how it was originally called the 'War Project' because no one had come up with a proper film title. They chart the history of the concept and how it was finally put into action. There is real footage from the Korean War video that the director watched whilst preparing for the movie and some interesting discussion on how they tried to temper it for both North and South Korean audiences - focussing on the horrors of war per se and making it globally enthralling. This is quite a nice little featurette that is worth your time.
Honoured Dispatches is a fifteen minute War Room featurette that again basically comprises interview footage with the director paired with another one of the producers, this time talking about the budgetary constraints of the project and how they overcame them by carefully choosing locations, props etc. The original planned budget was much greater than what they were forced to work with in the end, mainly due to the economic state of both Korea and Korean cinema at the time. Although slightly drier and more focussed on the economics than anything else, this is still quite an interesting little interview compilation.
Finally in the War Room we get the twenty-minute Captain's Orders section, which is basically just an extended interview with the action director Jung Doo-Hung, talking about how they made the fight scenes look so good. He talks in an overly philosophical way, coming across as extremely patronising, but occasionally some of his comments about the way they film certain scenes - inter-spliced with footage of the relevant sequence - are interesting to hear. There is a little too much final film footage but we do get a bit of behind the scenes combat footage during the preparatory stages and whilst the first half is slightly meandering, it picks up towards the end with talk of how they did their own stunts and how they had a huge number of extras and a ludicrously small budget in comparison with movies like Saving Private Ryan.
The next section is Making History, within which we get three parts - History Through the Lens, Brotherhood and Tears of Fire, which can be played together as one long sequence, reaching nearly an hour and a half in length. Again we get plenty of interview footage with the director and other crew members, talking about everything from how they filmed a lot using hand-held cameras, to the blood and visual effects and the evolution of the tremendous score. The Brotherhood part looks at the characters and the relationships, the central strand of familial honour that courses through the movie and how they conveyed it. The final section is longer than both of the other sections put together and takes a more global view of the production, putting it into perspective in light of the fact that this was one of the most successful Korean movies ever. There's footage from the post-production celebrations, plenty of behind the scenes footage and on-set interviews with many of the major cast and crew members. There are even a few shots of scenes that did not make it into the final cut and lines that were removed. Of all the featurettes, this is probably the most packed and the most interesting - particularly since it adopts a more documentary-style approach rather than the basic interview style of the other featurettes.
The Ministry of Propaganda section contains a Don't Look Back in Anger featurette that runs at twenty-four minutes in length and purports to tell the truth behind the war. It is a mish-mash of black and white archive footage from the war itself and interviews with veterans who saw the horrors first hand, all reporting their experiences. It is quite interesting to watch - and some of the tales are harrowing - leaving you wanting to watch the movie again having understood more about the reality behind it. Under this Propaganda section we also get two trailers for the main movie.
Just to round of the disc there is a small section dedicated to Premier Asia releases - The Warrior, The Grudge, the superb Ong-Bak, Volcano High and a couple of others, all with trailers.
VerdictBrotherhood is a magnificent military epic founded on a solid story about brotherly duty, honour and trust. With some fantastic performances, superb cinematography and a rousing score this is a serious competitor to Hollywood counterparts. This release is also pretty superb, with a solid transfer, several decent audio tracks and almost every conceivable extra packed into the two discs. For war film enthusiasts, Asian cinema aficionados and generally just anybody who loves a decent epic masterpiece, this is well worth your time - not just worthy of a rental but an outright purchase. I would be very surprised to find anybody disappointed.
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