My Way 마이 웨이
2011, colour, 2.35:1, 141 mins
Directed by Kang Je-gyu (강제규 | 姜帝圭)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 13 February 2012, 16:40 PM (HKT)
Unengaging, nationalist war epic, devoid of genuine emotion or real characters. Beyond Asia, largely ancillary.
1928, Gyeong-seong (modern-day Seoul), Korea. Young Kim Jun-shik (Shin Sang-yeop), his father (Cheon Ho-jin) and sister Eun-su (Jo Min-a) work on the farm of the Hasegawa family (Sano Shiro, Nakamura Kumi) in Japanese-occupied Korea. Both Jun-shik and young Hasegawa Tatsuo (Seong Yu-bin) are interested in running and by the time they are teenagers (Do Ji-han, Kobayashi Yukichi) are fierce competitors. Tatsuo's grandfather (Natsuyagi Isao) is killed in a bomb attack by a Korean terrorist and subsequently a Korean runner, Son Gi-jeong (Yun Hui-won), wins a marathon race against Japanese competitors, further inflaming Korean-Japanese tensions. In May 1938, Jun-shik (Jang Dong-geon) is working as a rickshaw runner as Koreans are banned from taking part in sports events and Tatsuo (Odagiri Joe), now a fierce Japanese nationalist, has sworn that a Korean will never again win a race. Though he has been accepted by a medical college in Berlin, Tatsuo decides to stay in Korea to run in the All Japan Trials for the marathon. Son secretly backs Jun-shik and the latter wins the race, though Tatsuo is awarded the medal when Jun-shik is disqualified for allegedly cheating. Following a riot by Korean spectators, Jun-shik is among those - including his friend Lee Jong-dae (Kim In-gwon), who likes Eun-su (Lee yeon-hui) - who are forcibly drafted into the Japanese army. In July 1939 they find themselves, along with 100 other Koreans, in a battle at Nomonhan, on the Mongolian border, where a Chinese sniper, Shirai (Fan Bingbing), avenging the death of her family at the hands of the Japanese, is captured and tortured. Tatsuo, now a colonel, arrives and takes over command, forcing the existing commander, Takakura (Tsurumi Shingo), to commit hara-kiri. After refusing to join a suicide squad organised by Tatsuo to fight the Soviets, Jun-shik is imprisoned with Shirai but escapes with her, Jong-dae and two other friends to the River Khalkhin, where Shirai dies after shooting down a Soviet plane. Jun-shik tries to warn the Japanese forces that a large-scale Soviet tank attack is coming but in the ensuing battle Tatsuo refuses to order a retreat. In February 1940 Jun-shik and Tatsuo end up in Kungursk POW camp, north of Perm, in the Soviet Union, where both Koreans and Japanese are incarcerated together. Under the name of Anton, Chong-dae has become a work-unit leader and helps his Korean friends, while Tatsuo is humiliated and almost killed by Jun-shik in a fight. When news comes that Germany has declared war on the Soviet Union, Jun-shik and Tatsuo are among those forcibly drafted into the Soviet army. Following a bloody battle against the German army at Hedosk in December 1941, Jun-shik and Tatsuo set out on a journey westwards that will find them on the beaches of Normandy, France, just prior to the D-Day Allied invasion.
All the faults and cliches in writer-director KANG Je-gyu 강제규 | 姜帝圭's previous war epic, Taegukgi 태극기 휘날리며 (2003), rear their head doubly large in My Way 마이 웨이 (2011), a similar story of testosterone-fuelled passions but here set across a much larger canvas (WW2 in the East and West) and between two traditional enemies (a Korean and Japanese) rather than quarrelling brothers. Apparently determined to outdo his previous movie on every front, the battles are bigger, the emotions even more operatic, and the violence and physical abuse yet more intense and unending. The result, alas, is one of ever-diminishing returns — in both believability and emotional engagement by the viewer — as the movie piles up like an expensive train wreck in slow motion.
My Way is basically one long, predictable "bromance" between two ultra-competitive males — a Japanese driven by nationalistic fervour and a natural sense of superiority, the Korean driven by equally nationalistic fervour and a natural propensity towards han (한 | 恨), the Korean concept of achievement through suffering. My Way has han by the bucket-load, even compared with other South Korean movies: as the story moves from Japanese-occupied Korea through the Soviet Union to the Normandy beaches on D-Day, the roles of tormentor and tormented are switched back and forth between the two leads and their followers, and revenge for injustices taken at every step. When it seems the limit has been reached on the amount of pain, suffering and bad scriptwriting the protagonists can be put through, Kang and his writers simply shift location and start again.
Like Taegukgi, the movie is undeniably impressive on a technical level, and with reportedly the biggest budget ever for a South Korean picture every cent of the estimated US$28 million (more than twice Taegukgi's cost) is up on the screen in both the excellent visual/special effects and the physical props and sets. From the plains of Mongolia through the wintry Russian landscapes to the Normandy beaches, this is a big picture. (Exteriors were largely shot in Latvia.) More's the pity, then, that the characters are so cliched and one-dimensional. Like Taegukgi, My Way is a 100% "engineered" movie, with situations manufactured to throw the protagonists together across vast spaces, emotions manufactured in the same way, and the theme of both leads linked by their passion for marathon running becoming increasingly ridiculous as the story progresses. At the end of the day, the film's real star is neither of the two lead actors but director Kang himself, determined to prove he can do it his way.
As the Korean, JANG Dong-geon 장동건 | 張東健 is fractionally more convincing and shaded than he was as the elder brother in Taegukgi, while ODAGIRI Joe オダギリジョー, as the Japanese, is little more than a ranting nationalist. In one of the few female roles, China's FAN Bingbing 范冰冰 shows up for about 10 minutes as a patriotic, vengeful sniper before being tortured, imprisoned and quickly despatched. Some welcome levity is brought to earlier scenes by KIM In-gwon 김인권 | 金仁權 as a friend of Jang's character, though he later morphs into a less likeable figure. Other roles make little individual impression, and dialogue throughout is as utilitarian as in Taegukgi.
The film is supposedly inspired by the true event of a Korean discovered among the bodies on D-Day. But on every basic level of scriptwriting and dramatic development, it's painfully inept — and a far cry from Kang's only movie of note, the gripping spy thriller Shiri 쉬리 (1999).
ContactSales: CJ E&M, Seoul (email@example.com)
Theatrical release: South Korea, 21 Dec 2011.
Presented by CJ E&M (SK), SK Planet (SK), Directors (SK). Produced by Directors (SK). Executive producers: Miky Lee, So Jin-u. Producers: Kang Je-gyu, Kim Yong-hwa, James Choi.
Script: Kim Byeong-in, Na Hyeon, Kang Je-gyu. Adaptation: Hwang In-ho, Kim Yeong-jin, Song Min-gyu. Photography: Lee Mo-gae. Editing: Park Gok-ji. Music: Lee Dong-jun. Production design: Jo Geun-hyeon. Costume design: Kim Jung-won. Sound: Han Cheol-hui, Kim Suk-won, Kim Chang-seop. Action: Park Ju-chun, Oleg Botin. Special effects: Jeong Do-an. Visual effects: Gang Jeong-ik, Son Seung-hyeon (Digital Idea, Film Wiz). Aerial photography: Peter Degerfeldt.
Cast: Jang Dong-geon (Kim Jun-shik), Odagiri Joe (Hasegawa Tatsuo), Fan Bingbing (Sirai), Kim In-gwon (Lee Jong-dae), Kim Hui-won (Hwang Chun-bok), Oh Tae-gyeong (Gwang-chun), Gwak Jeong-uk (Min-u), Kim Shi-hu (Tsukamoto), Cheon Ho-jin (Jun-shik's father), Yun Hui-won (Son Gi-jeong), Yamamoto Taro (Noda), Hamada Manabu (Mukai), Tsurumi Shingo (Takakura), Natsuyagi Isao (Tatsuo's grandfather), Sano Shiro (Tatsuo's father), Nakamura Kumi (Tatsuo's mother), Do Ji-han (teenage Jun-shik), Shin Sang-yeop (young Jun-shik), Kobayashi Yukichi (teenage Tatsuo), Seong Yu-bin (young Tatsuo), Lee Yeon-hui (Kim Eun-su), Go Ju-yeon (teenage Eun-su), Jo Min-a (young Eun-su), Hong Da-hun (teenage Jong-dae), Park Sang-hyeok (Saito, the trainer), Remigius Sabulis (Andrei), Ismail Deniz (Karim), Michael Arnold (priest).