Until recently I'd never heard of this movie, however it was good word-of-mouth that prompted me to request this DVD to review. Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo - or as it's known internationally “Taegukgi: Brotherhood of War”, is a stirring movie of family bonds, set against the horrors of the Korean war.
Telling the story of two brothers - Jin-tae (Dong-Kun Jang) and Jin-seok (Bin Won), the story opens with the two of them as the young, carefree men that they are. Jin-tae is the more placid of the two, academic and studious by nature, while Jin-seok is a “shoeshiner”, aspiring only to become a shoe-maker and to marry his fiancé, Young-shin (Eun-ju Lee). All is good in the world, until the Korean war breaks out, and as the military muster conscripts, Jin-tae is herded onto a train and faces being split from his brother. Jin-seok is having none of it, though, and muscles onto the train to rescue his brother, only to be beaten by the soldiers on-board and then forced also into conscription.
So begins Taegukgi, and thereupon the viewer is thrown headlong into the maelstrom of bloody war, alongside the two brothers as they fight for survival against the northern Communists. It's here that the differences in character of both brothers comes to the fore; Jin-tae, the passive younger brother, struggling to cope with the shells and the bullets, with Jin-seok by contrast, almost seeming to revel in the experience, taking on the most dangerous missions and making the bravest of rushes into the jaws of the enemy.
Relationships strain under this pressure, and though it becomes clear that Jin-seok is simply trying to win a medal and negotiate with his officers for his brother to be taken off the frontline, other, more dangerous fallout of the experience of war threatens to tear them apart, as friends from the old life become enemies and the experience of war changes all it touches...
There is much more to say on Taegukgi, but I will go no further for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say though, if you are a war movie fan then this piece of Korean cinema should not be missed. Comparisons with Spielberg's [I]Saving Private Ryan[/I] are inevitable, but the stories are very different. If anything, Taegukgi offers a much more layered affair; the story is more three dimensional (even if it does stretch the envelope of plausibility a little too much in places), and the relationships and character building are much more solid. The action, too, is in a similar vein, with many shots in the staccato style that Spielberg perfected, though I would suggest that in this respect Private Ryan is a little more accomplished.
Viewers should be warned though, Taegukgi is not for the faint hearted. Featuring some of the most brutal combat scenes I've experienced - in fact this surpasses anything I've seen for the utter brutality of hand to hand combat - this movie will have you squirming. Intestines bubble from gaping wounds, pieces of skull and other body parts rain down, maggots squirm over the injured, and there's frequent gouts of scarlet splashing about the place. It's unflinching, it's graphic - perhaps too much for some - and if this doesn't turn your stomach, then surely the cries of battle will, which permeate the soundtrack with gruelling regularity.
Make no mistake, Taegukgi is a challenge to watch. It's tough going, but each viewer has to decide for themselves if the end result is worth it. Me? I was crying like a baby by the time the end credits roll, but even then I wasn't sure if I liked the movie or not. It's accomplished, and you'd have to have a heart of stone for the ending to fail to bring tears to your eyes.
In summary, if you have a strong stomach, a penchant for war movies and you don't mind crying at a movie, then seek this out - otherwise, best stick to Disney eh?