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Family drama drives foreign war film

Marty Schroeder | Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Most war films made in the past have dealt with the conditions surrounding only one side of a war. With the possible exception of “The Longest Day,” war films usually concern themselves with the conditions and events surrounding the American side of the wars in which our country has been involved, or if not America, the country concerned is the country where the film was made.

“Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War,” written and directed by Kang Je-gyu, tells an apolitical story of two brothers who are not concerned with whose side they are fighting for, but more for the well-being and survival of each other. Instead of the usual patriotic undertones (or overtones in some cases), the focus is on family.

The film revolved around two brothers, Jin-tae and Jin-seok who are drafted into the South Korean Army in 1950. Attempting to gain leave from military service for his younger brother, Jin-tae takes on a suicidal mission in order to win the Medal of Honor. His plan ultimately fails as his brother flees to return home and he finds his fiancée killed. After learning about his brother’s supposed death at the hands of the South Koreans, Jin-tae joins the North Korean Army in a rage.

The emotional force of this film is some of the most powerful to be delivered from a war film. Since the film revolves around family and not the political leanings of one side or the other, it makes the emotional conflict more poignant.

When Jin-tae learns that his brother was not killed, he turns on the North Korean Army, which he had joined, only to allow his brother to escape. The audience finds that it does not matter for which side of the war Jin-tae is fighting, so long as he can get his brother home safely.

The camera work during the battle scenes is somewhat shaky, and there is excessive editing at times, but overall, the battle scenes are excellent with the proper amount of build up and then emotional turmoil as certain sympathetic characters are either badly injured or killed. The visual effects, sound effects and sound editing of the battles are also excellent. The gore effects are also especially well done. There was just enough displayed on screen as to illicit the proper effect, but there was not so much that the audience became disillusioned with it.

On a side note, the director had to build a Korean War-era tank himself, as he could not get one from the South Korean government for use.

As driving as the emotional conflict is, there are times when the film becomes a bit melodramatic, such as when the characters flashback to the times before the war. The insertion of these scenes and the music playing with them makes them seem almost cliché, and any real emotional impact, as far as the flashbacks are concerned, is lost.

Overall, this film is an excellent re-tooling of the war film. It is beautifully shot, and the closeness of the family is never questioned. The acting is excellent, and the sub-titles were very well written. This film should be recommended to anyone who is looking for a different way of telling a war film – one that is apolitical and examines the emotional impacts a war can have without glorifying a particular ideology.