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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 10.81%
Just Average: 0%
Pretty Crappy: 2.7%
Sucks: 4.05%

3 reviews, 56 user ratings

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Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War
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by Jay Seaver

"Brother against brother; it always comes down to that."
4 stars

The Korean War is overlooked in the United States; the world was much the same at its end as at its beginning, and it never became the unending quagmire that Vietnam or Iraq did. The Communist witch-hunts and later Vietnam became much more interesting stories. In Korea, though, it was one of the century's defining events, and here serves as the backdrop for an intense, if occasionally melodramatic, war movie.

University student Lee Jin-seok (Bin Won) and his older brother Jin-tae (Jang Dong-Kun) live just outside Soeul with Jin-tae's fiancée Young-shin (Lee Eun-ju) and their mother (Lee Yeong-ran). When North Korea invades and Souel is evacuated, Jin-seok is dragooned into the army, as is Jin-tae when he tries to extricate his brother, despite the rule about only one child per family. As they're assigned to the front lines, Jin-tae makes a deal with his superior officer to take dangerous assignments to keep his brother relatively safe, gaining a hero's reputation in the process. Meanwhile, on the homefront, Young-shin is considered a communist sympathizer because she attended meetings for the rice that was handed out - and as you can imagine, being considered a communist sympathizer is much worse in a Republic of Korea in the middle of a shooting war than Cold War America. When the family is reunited, the story takes a lurching (and improbable?) twist.

That last act vexes me. The film is bookended with an elderly Jin-seok (Jang Min-ho) and his granddaughter (Jo Yun-hie) being called by archaeologists excavating the sight of a fierce battle that took place fifty years older, where they found an expensive pen Jin-tae gave to Jin-seok before the war. The plot twist I was expecting from this doesn't happen, but the one that does seems even more far-fetched. I'm sure people did defect during the war, but would they be placed in a position where they could potentially turn on the side defected to? It strikes me that North Korea would be more paranoid than this (as they should be); it's a situation that really wouldn't exist outside of a movie.

So, we need the cast to sell us on it, and they are pretty solid. Jang Dong-kun grabs our attention as Jin-tae, getting an awful lot of range out of his cherubic appearance. Over the course of the film, Jin-tae will be many things - loving older brother, hardened soldier, a fellow enjoying his status as a hero a little too much, and thoroughly disillusioned; he handles all of those facts and transformations without ever losing sight of who the character is at the core. Bin Won is nearly as good as younger brother Jin-seok. The pair has a good dynamic, with college student Jin-seok initially seeming like the sensible one while Jin-tae is a goofball, but Jin-tae's pragmatism allows us to see Jin-seok as somewhat naive later on; he's able to maintain his idealism because Jin-tae has been protecting him. We don't see nearly as much of Lee Eun-ju's Young-shin as we see of the brothers, of course, but she's fine there; we get a sense of her as a thoroughly decent person (the neighborhood kids all tend to congregate around her) while believing that she wouldn't consider the long-term effects of what she does.

We meet a number of other soldiers in the brothers' platoon, and they're standard war-movie types played well enough. One of the main reasons they're introduced is to serve as fodder during battle scenes, and writer/director Kang Je-gyu serves up some pretty nasty combat. The most obvious comparison is Saving Private Ryan, but where Spielberg desaturated the color to give his film the look of wartime photography, Kang eschews such tricks, opting to give us a straight-ahead view of the blood and mayhem. The violence and its effects are garish and graphic, almost at times becoming the "fun" dismemberment of horror movies, but remaining solidly disquieting. The combat is done on a large scale, with several sequences using hundreds if not thousands of extras. Some liberties are probably taken here; at least one battle is presented as being at such close quarters that not only are bayonets used, but it becomes a fistfight. It gets across the point of vicious combat, though, probably better than shooting rifles from a distance.

Kang's script is pretty good - the narrative hook of two brothers conscripted and the older, less-educated one trying to protect the one who represents the family's hopes and dreams is compelling. I like how he contrasts that with the damage that the Home Guard is doing to that family when they're away; it lends tragic weight to the proceedings and tempers the anti-North Korean rhetoric that naturally comes up during the story. But that last act; it's like it comes from another movie. It's an interesting movie, one which would certainly be worth watching, and has another good action scene, but it makes the movie less about the brothers' relationship and more about... I'm not sure, exactly. The insanity of the two Koreas being at war? How some of the authoritarian policies of South Korea were as dangerous as the communist North, if not more so? There's a good theme about the rescuer needing to be rescued, and the ending is satisfying, though it's not really an ending that the first hour and a half was leading up to.

At two hours and twenty minutes, this is an epic-sized war movie, and despite the odd last act, one with much to recommend it. It doesn't flinch from war's ugliness, nor does it ignore the South's own moral lapses in time of war. And there's something right about a Korean War movie being a brother story at its heart. I don't know that this is the definitive movie about that conflict, but it should probably be on the short list.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10669&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/10/06 23:50:48
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/13/15 jokerass lol 1 stars
3/30/14 Rob, J,A,A greatest war movie since saving orivate ryan, made me cry at the end 5 stars
10/28/12 fartvenugen Horribly cliched with an atrocious score 2 stars
10/14/09 Alex "Amazing, the most brilliant Korean War movie." 5 stars
4/17/09 Samuel Kim (Kim-Hangul) I loved this movie; one of the best war epics i had ever seen. 5 stars
10/02/08 nilo s. manib jr. gravEeeeeEEEhhhhh.......sobrang ganda..,,,mapapaluha ka tlagah!!!! 5 stars
8/27/07 gene awesome movie, awesome acting and war scenes, it was awesome in every way, and it was sad 5 stars
8/24/07 Hairuddin The best war movie i've ever seen since spr and make me sad too..... 5 stars
6/30/07 Martyn Macmillan Exelent very dramatic and good acting recomended to anyone 5 stars
6/23/07 Neil O. Very good movie. Very realistic. Intelligent actors. Have to watch it again. 5 stars
5/11/07 Umenaki it was hard to understand... 1 stars
4/04/07 johhny depp best war film ive seen so far 5 stars
3/24/07 Quigley This is easily one of the greatest war films ever made: Everyone needs to see it 5 stars
11/10/06 Mark Radburn Better than Saving Private Ryan, it bought a tear to my eye 5 stars
10/10/06 mike Loved this movie. everyone who likes war movies should watch this one. 5 stars
10/10/06 Benji It was amazing. 5 stars
9/19/06 wnana know? it's very sad movie i know 5 stars
8/20/06 nur safina no other words except great and GREAT.the best film i've ever seen.i swear!! 5 stars
7/31/06 janessa best fucking movie i have ever seen, blew me away, you will not be disapponted 5 stars
6/21/06 ragpala great movie!!! very realsitic from the performances to the effects!!! 5 stars
2/13/06 nilo manib jr. very beautiful movie in the whole world 5 stars
12/15/05 Matto Oru I'm not a fan of war movies in general, but this one blew me away! 5 stars
9/12/05 katryn fantastic! much better than other war movies 5 stars
8/22/05 wc touching movie,one of the greatest asia movie 5 stars
8/15/05 Richie Cataulin It really is like a Korean SPR. Anyone can relate despite the cultural difference. 5 stars
7/22/05 R amazing, great movie. emotional and dramatic yet visually exciting 5 stars
7/07/05 kalv really good movie 5 stars
7/02/05 Todd Becker One of the best historical war pictures Ive ever seen. A must own film! 5 stars
6/18/05 aldo REALLY REALLY GOOOOOOOD!!! One of the best war films ever 5 stars
3/24/05 Toes better than band of brothers....but its still trying to be.... 2 stars
3/14/05 Caiphn Impressive, powerful and at times disgusting movie about the Korean War. 5 stars
3/11/05 JB The best anti-war movie ever! 5 stars
3/08/05 Los Daddy Powerful...More intense the SPR...The Korean War is note explored enough...Thank you TGG 5 stars
11/15/04 Susan Impressive 5 stars
10/27/04 Karen Lee AweSome! 5 stars
10/17/04 Jeny this movie is the BEST 5 stars
10/15/04 Jim Ew 1 stars
10/14/04 Ric A touching story of brotherly love, best war film since Saving Private Ryan 5 stars
9/30/04 Vicky AMAZING! unbelievable acting 5 stars
9/29/04 Young This is not a typical hollywoord war movie. Watch it! 5 stars
9/28/04 Cathline Bernard I really enjoyed the movie. It was produced very well. 4 stars
9/28/04 Austen Best movie I've seen in the longest time! 5 stars
9/25/04 Doug A significant film that should not be missed. 5 stars
9/24/04 Vivi Very Powerful! Best movie ever!!! Must see!! 5 stars
9/24/04 kriss harvey stunning, real and long overdue about this war 5 stars
9/20/04 Tatiana Poignant, reminds me of "Stalingrand", another great war movie 5 stars
9/19/04 Tom Hanks A lot better than Saving Private Ryan 5 stars
9/18/04 Inkook Park one of the best movies of the life time 5 stars
9/16/04 J Better than any other hollywood war movies 5 stars
9/12/04 James Mcpeak It's the best foreign movie ever~! 5 stars
9/07/04 Eugene Excellent!!!!! 5 stars
9/04/04 jennifer AWESOME MOVIE BUT ALSO DEPRESSING 5 stars
9/04/04 Torasan "Deeply moving, but a bit melodramatic. Power war scenes" 4 stars
9/04/04 LEE, H.B Wonderful, Very Great 5 stars
9/04/04 hangel This is a must-see movie..Do not miss it if you can.. 5 stars
8/30/04 Jason Lee good plot, very realistic war scenes and very touching, highly recommended! 5 stars
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  03-Sep-2004 (R)
  DVD: 15-Feb-2005



Directed by
  Kang Je-gyu

Written by
  Kang Je-gyu

  Jang Dong-Kun
  Won Bin
  Lee Eun-Ju
  Kong Hyeong-jin
  Lee Yeong-ran
  Jo Yun-hie

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