My Way (마이웨이: Kang Je-Kyu, South Korea: 2011)

My Way (마이웨이) is Director Kang’s follow up to his successful 2004 Brotherhood: Taegukgi (태극기 휘날리며) award winning and box office record breaking epic – with more than 10 million box office admissions – about the impact on the Korean War on two brothers, who end up fighting for different sides during the brutal conflict. While Brotherhood: Taegukgi is inward looking – concerned with internal divisions and conflict – My Way is outward looking, taking as its inspiration a ‘true story’ of a Korean Soldier, Yang Kyoungjong, who is said to have fought for the Kwantung army in 1938 before being captured first by the Soviet Army and then by the German Army. Purportedly he was eventually captured by the US army during the invasion of Normandy  and ended up in a POW in Britain before being released in 1945 (see ‘Going My Way with KANG Je-kyu ‘ in Korean Cinema Today, Kang Byeong-jin [ available at <http://koreanfilm.or.kr/webzine/sub/feature.jsp?mode=A_VIEW&wbSeq=41>] for further details). While some critics have questioned the ‘veracity’ of the story on which My Way is based, Director Kang’s most ambitious and South Korea’s most expensive film to date is a ultimately tragic tale of the fate of ordinary soldiers (whether they are Korean, Japanese, German or Russian), who are caught up in a brutal conflict beyond their understanding and who risk losing their humanity in the fight for survival.

My Way’s starry cast includes the popular South Korean actor JANG Dong-gun as KIM Joon-Sik, ODARGIRI Joe, one of Japan’s most famous actors, as HASEGAWA Tatsuo, and noted Chinese actress and singer BINGBING Fan.  However it must be noted that Fan Bingbing is underused in her role as Shirai, a Chinese Solider and sharpshooter who helps Joon-Sik escape from the Japanese Army, and ends up dead for her efforts. Bingbing sparkles briefly but is too soon extinguished to have any real impact in a film that it concerned about [military] masculinity and identity. This is all too true of War films, unless they are concerned with woman’s domestic struggle or valiant efforts on the home front.

Like Director Kang’s Brotherhood, My Way mainly focuses in on the relationship between two men who end up on opposite sides of a conflict. Joon-Sik and Tatsuo become childhood friends when Tatsuo’s family moves to Seoul (Gyeongseong) where his grandfather is a high ranking official in the Japanese Colonial Army in 1928. Their friendship is based upon a common interest in Marathon running, an interest which will be divisive in a later years when both compete to be included in the Olympic team: a race which Joon-Sik wins but is disqualified in order that Tatsuo can take the place in the team.  This ‘unfair’ decision directly leads to Joon-Sik being conscripted into the Japanese Army where he is forced to fit alongside the determined Tatsuo, for whom sacrifice in the name of the Emperor is the true sign of a man, and leads a suicidal charge against the Mongolian Army, before being captured and forced to fight for the Russians alongside his friend and competitor, Joon-Sik.

The film’s panoramic scope from South Korea, to the icy expanses of Siberia and the beaches of Normandy, offers a snapshot of the killing fields of World War 2 that is never less than impressive, managing to be both horrific and beautiful at the same time.  Eschewing military jingoism, My Way is concerned with the day to day life of ordinary soldiers, who are the literal embodiment of the vagaries of War for whom which political ideology and economic ambition means little beyond the human instinct for survival.

The fact that My Way has not performed particularly well to date at either the South Korea or Japanese box offices, especially compared to Brotherhood, attests to the fact that the historical conflict between Japan and South Korea is still a raw sore in the national imaginary of both countries. In addition, My Way is silent about the plight of woman, especially the ‘comfort’ woman – Korean military prostitutes –whose stories are one of the true horrors of the conflict between Japan and Korea. However, irrespective of this, Director Kang’s film is a cinematic tour-de-force and unmissable.

If you live in the UK, My Way is the opening film of the Terracotta Far East Film Festival, on 12th April 2011, at 20:30 pm, which takes place at the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s Leicester Square.

Details on the Festival and how to book are available here:

http://terracottafestival.com/films/2012/my-way

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