“Taegukgi” is presented in widescreen 2.35:1 with AVC 1080i coding.
The opening scenes during the archaeological dig provide some nice detail on the sandy soil and the ancient skulls that are unearthed from the fifty year old battle site. The beautiful colouration on the clean, predominantly white flag of Southern Korean is also impressive in these scenes. When proceedings move to the 1950's setting of Seoul the picture takes on a more washed out appearance, with muted colours and a pastel heavy palette. In contrast, some of the battle scenes can look very impressive and although the colours remain rather drab, the variation in the colours of green on the ROK uniforms is very subtle, but striking. The accurate representation of the muddiness of the soil (in the trenches), in conjunction with the soldiers uniforms gives the entire presentation an “earthy” appearance which really enhances the battlefield setting.
The contrast ratio is impressive as we move to the 38th Parallel where the war rages. The darker night time sequences can demonstrate cavernous blacks. A nice stylistic touch in this movie was the inclusion of tracer-like bullets whose lightning quick progression can be seen zinging across the screen. The battle sequence at Pyongyang was a visual highlight, with the bright outdoor setting unveiling a lot of gory detail.
There are some good instances of depth during some of the outdoor scenes in Soeul and also during some of the battle sequences, as the troops come rushing towards the viewer, almost spilling out of the set and onto the living room floor. Other scenes where weapons are levelled at the viewer posseses some elements of three-dimensionality. These instances were somewhat limited though with some of the facial content appearing slightly soft in comparison. The quality of this transfer is somewhat of a mixed bag with some HD highlights. The subtitles were also very easy to read throughout.
“Taegukgi” comes packed with a powerful dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track.
An impressive score with rousing orchestral intonations features which really suits this war epic. There is also a nice interlude when the band plays to see the ROK contingent off to war, with brass segments and the kick of the bass drum sounding spot on. The score sits perfectly in the mix with prolonged string sections and some nice bass tonality creating excitement during the battle sequences. Speaking of which these explosive war scenes, which are plentiful, literally tear the room apart with some phenomenal surround activity, as shells scream in from left and right, erupting front and center. As shells pound the battlefield, with nice LFE presence, their resultant explosions kick up huge geysers of dirt and gravel which duly cascade over the listening position with superlative directionality. Again and again the relentless bombings continue with the same constant enveloping effect. Equally impressive are the air raid sequences with fighter jets opening up the soundstage, advancing from behind the listening position as they rain fire upon the ground troops, accompanied by the clanking bass rumble of advancing tanks. The shelling of the trenches is an onslaught for the senses and very realistic, with the viewing position becoming the epicentre of the battle. Throughout these uncompromising scenes, and throughout the entire presentation, dialogue is audible although understandably a little difficult to follow at times.
Aside from these intense sequences there are also some nice ambient effects such as the bustle of the crowd in Seoul and the chirping of crickets/ twitter of birds during the forested sequences. In combination with the thuds and smacks of the frequent fist fights, and the immense chug of the train as it leaves Seoul with its idealistic and enthusiastic young volunteers, these effects ensure that the soundstage is always active. Although an impressive audio mix with some great use of the surrounds some of the sections, especially the battle sequences, did seem a tad flat and lacked deep LFE presence. On the whole this is an impressive mix with some very powerful auditory moments.
During the closing scenes of the movie (when Jin-tae is making his last stand) there was a sonic boom effect that literally caused me to sit bolt upright in my seat, fearing for the safety of my speakers. All seems well with the Monitor Audio's and the subwoofer still produced its familiar low rumble during a test tone that I ran directly after this incident. This sonic boom factor, I can only imagine, is probably not very good for one's speakers. I'm not 100% sure that this strange and unsettling effect was a result of the uncompressed track or some other fault with my system but I do not want to risk replicating it!
As the extras on “Taegukgi” consist of two commentary tracks (featuring the director, cast and crew), neither of which contain English subtitles, I was unable to listen to these for the purpose of this review. It's possible that there will be a UK release of this movie (once Tartan start releasing quality BD titles) but if the extras are a direct port from this release then there's not a whole lot to look forward to!
“Taegukgi” harnesses visual images of war atrocities in combination with an emotional storyline to produce an engrossing war epic. With some brutal battle sequences that really highlight the horror of the Korean War and the claustrophobic nature of the trenches, coupled with an unrelenting pace, this is a powerful movie that is sometimes difficult to watch. This is the Korean version of “Saving Private Ryan” and a must see for any fans of the war genre.
Whilst the audio and video presentations both have moments where they can really impress, especially with regards to the accurate and enveloping soundstage, both are also unfortunately marred by instances of softness and weak LFE presence. Overall the good points do outweigh the bad in this sometimes stunning transfer.
Once again we have another BD release (see “Welcome to Dongmakgol”) that fails to cater for the English speaking Asian cinema fans. Although, as the extras content consists of only two commentary tracks (with no English subtitles), there's not a whole to look forward when this does get a UK release. Overall this is a serviceable release, with the audio/video content and the main feature itself making up for the almost non-existent extras content.
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