Tae Guk Gi

I recently had the great pleasure of watching Tae Guk Gi, or The Brotherhood of War. It's a fantastic war film, one of the best I've ever seen. The style of much of the photography in the combat scenes is taken directly from Saving Private Ryan, which can be a little annoying, but I've got to say, straight up, that this a top-notch flick.

The movie begins just before the North Korean invasion. Two brothers get drafted as the ROK (Republic of Korea) perimeter gets pushed back toward Pusan, and the movie carries through the offensive into North Korea after the Marines land at Inchon, and climaxes after the Chinese join in and the front lines settle in around the pre-war lines.

One of the more interesting aspects of this film was the production and costuming. The ROK forces were all equipped in American equipment, and it was unsettling sometimes to realize that I was putting American faces on the actors during action scenes, because they were wearing clothes and helmets that are iconically American. During the push up toward the Chinese border, the look of the scenes is very realistic, and seeing the ROK forces move through small snow-covered villages was a bit strange, since there have been so few movies covering that part of the war (not to speak of few movies of that war, period). And I must admit what a thrill it was to see realistically rendered F4Us in action (I had a similar thrill when I watched Thirteen Days, and got to see F8s, instead of the ubiquitous Phantoms).

This is a smart film, not just a bang-bang. The complexities of the war are brought out well. One woman character gets in a lot of trouble because she had attended communist rallies for the free food they gave out. The civil war aspect comes out in a way it never could in an American film.

Since this is a smart movie, it has a moral. I'm sure of it. I just haven't figured it out. I guess that's the problem with being a furriner. There's quite a twist toward the end of the movie, which gives it this inscrutable-to-me moral weight. The film is trying to tell us one of two things. The first, which I don't think is the goal, but I guess it could be, would be the standard "war is terrible and should be avoided at all costs." It's possible, and I'd be interested in knowing how the movie was received in Korea, especially given the movement, popular with the young, toward reunification/base appeasement. Or the movie could be telling us that as horrible as the war was/has been, especially the division between Koreans, the sacrifice was worth it.

But to be honest, I'm not sure if that's just wishful thinking on my part.

The Brotherhood of War is a really great film, regardless. Check it out. Maybe you can figure out what I couldn't. And if not, it's a straight-up interesting film. Well worth your time.