In the pre-war Seoul of 1950, older brother Jin Tae (Jang Dong Gun) is a happy-go-lucky shoeshine boy and amateur cobbler who works hard all day so that younger brother Jin Seok (Won Bin), a star student, can finish high school, go on to college, and become the savior who will lift his entire extended family into the middle class. Jin Tae's devotion to his younger brother is absolute.
But then comes the war, in the form of Army trucks rumbling down the streets and soldiers snatching all the young men they spot and herding them off the train station for a quick ride straight to the front. Jin Seok is grabbed, and Jin Tae races right onto the train to snatch him back, only to be snatched himself. Both brothers are off to war.
And what a war. Nothing you've seen before, not even Ryan, prepares you for the carnage that writer/director Kan Je-guy choreographs. Shot in the same frantic handheld style that Spielberg used so effectively, the battles, which come relentlessly, one after the other, are sheer chaos. Jin Tae soon realizes that the best way to protect his fragile brother will be to volunteer for the kinds of insane missions that will make him a hero and give him the clout to request a favor from the top brass: send my brother home. As it turns out, Jin Tae is an excellent soldier, dispatching Commies by the dozen and dodging the mines, grenades, flamethrowers, and napalm that turn many of his comrades into dust before our horrified eyes.
Because the battlefront moved up and down the Korean peninsula many times in the course of the war, civilians were always caught in the crossfire, and Tae Guk Gi is especially forceful in its depiction of civilian atrocities. Neither side is innocent. The Communists slaughter entire villages as they retreat (but not before stringing up women and children from the tallest tree), but back in Seoul, anti-Communist factions are rounding up suspected collaborators, including anyone who was ever lured to a Red rally in order to get some of the food they were handing out. They're typically executed within minutes.
One of those victims turns out to be Jin Tae's fiancé, and he just happens to be home on leave to witness her execution. The incident pushes him somewhere close to complete insanity, and upon his return to the front he switches sides to fight for the north, becoming a Braveheart-like steamroller on the battlefield, cracking skulls and disemboweling his foes like a maniac. Jin Seok is horrified; now it's brother against brother, and Jin Tae's original intentions to protect his brother seem to have been totally forgotten.
Tae Guk Gi is reported to be the most successful film in Korean history, and one wonders what young and prosperous South Koreans think when they see the horrors their grandparents had to live through before they were able to build a viable industrial country. Kan Je-guy tells this story on both a grand and a very personal scale. It's the story of a nation, but it's also the story of a family, and of the importance of loyalty to one's family. That message, and the images that go with it, will stay with you.
Aka Brotherhood, Taegukgi, Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo.
Brothers in arms.
Run time: 140 mins
In Theaters: Friday 6th February 2004
Box Office USA: $0.9M
Distributed by: IDP
Production compaines: Showbox Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 33 Rotten: 8
IMDB: 8.2 / 10
Director: Kan Je-guy
Producer: Seong hun-Lee
Screenwriter: Jang Dong Gun
Starring: Jang Dong-gun as 이진태 (Jintae Lee), Won Bin as 이진석 (Jinseok Lee), Lee Eun-ju as 영신 (Yeongsin), Gong Hyung-jin as 영만 (Yeongman)
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