Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War

(Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo, Korea, 2004)

Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo) (Korea, 2004) I learn that this movie is both the most expensive and the most popular Korean film of all time. $12,000,000 is hardly enough to shoot a one-minute commercial in Hollywood, but apparently Korean won go farther. Actually, that’s about 12 billion won. And they certainly got every won of it up on the screen. Literally a cast of thousands, huge numbers of explosions, lots of blood and dismemberment. And I can see why it would appeal to a Korean audience, as it is about the most honest and thorough account of the entire Korean War that’s ever been made. It is actually even-handed, in that it honestly shows that horrible atrocities were committed by both sides. The South was as fanatical about anti-communism as the North was about their insane version of Stalinism. And another thing: all the movies I’ve seen about the “Korean conflict,” as we call it, focus on Americans. Here, we never see an American. We know the marines have landed at Inchon, and we know they are retreating before the hordes of Red Chinese swarming over the Yalu River, but we never see them.

So I wish I could say it’s a good movie. It’s not. It’s 2 1/2 hours long, and at least 2 of those hours are taken up with horrific combat scenes that always degenerate into prolonged fights with fists and bayonets, like a Kung Fu movie. Emotional scenes are stretched out 5 times as long as they need to be, and usually in an improbable zone of silence while battle rages but the people in the scene are immune to bullets. The story is puerile, and every cliché in the book is used, including the long, long, long run of the family at the train station as two brothers are shanghaied into the army, and a Mexican standoff with about a dozen guns. What it reminds me most of is Pearl Harbor, that bloated raft of movie clichés, with subtitles.