(The Brotherhood of War)

TaeGukGi is the highest grossing movie in Korea.  Ever.  Bigger than all those cheesy Asian martial arts movies, and bigger than Titanic.  That has to say something.  It is a brutal account of the Korean War as seen through the eyes of two brothers, and their relationship and reactions to the violence as the war progresses.  What most Americans fail to recognize is that like Vietnam, the Korean War started before America entered, and continued after America left.  While American film continues to focus on the Civil War and its themes of brother against brother, TaeGukGi gives a more modern, Saving Private Ryan-like look at similar themes through the eyes of a different culture, so people can still relate to it.

Jin-Tae (Jang Dong-Kun, Coast Guard, 2099 Lost Memories) and his younger brother Jin-Seok (Won Bin, Guns & Talks) live in idyllic life in rural Korea.  Jin-Tae shines shoes to help earn money so that Jin-Seok can afford to go to school, where his grades are promising.  Jin-Tae doesn't mind, since he is going to marry Young-shin (Lee Eun-Ju, Garden of Heaven, White Room).  When the war breaks out, the army drafts Jin-Seok.  Jin-Tae tries to stop them, and ends up drafted also.  His new goal is to earn a medal so that he can request his brother be sent home.  Life on the field is horrific, and writer/director Kang Je-Gyu (Shiri, Rules of the Game) does not shy away from showing severed limbs, bloody bodies, and violent explosions.

As war continues, the two brothers begin a profound change.  Jin-Seok sees what is happening around him and it sickens him.  He doesn't believe that there is any point to all this death, violence, and destruction.  Jin-Tae goes down the opposite path.  He exults in the praise heaped upon him as he volunteers for increasingly dangerous missions in his quest for a medal.  His desire to keep his brother safe becomes an excuse to kill.  Every time Jin-Tae goes into battle, a blood lust takes over, and he is an unstoppable killing machine.  He soon cares little for anything, he just wants to kill.  When he engages the North, he sees enemies, not people.  Seeing the change in his brother disgusts Jin-Seok, driving a wedge between the once close friends.

This is a very long film.  And like most other Asian films it is pretty melodramatic.  When the violence stops, the acting is a little to hammy for most American audiences, and the successive turns of the plot, especially the final act of the film grow a little incredulous.  Yet, this and the fact that the legacy of the Korean War lives on, is probably what made it so popular in Korea.  Kang wants to show how dramatically war changes two people, but the lengths he is willing to go borders on the ridiculous.  Moreover, when those two people are brothers, the loss of emotional closeness becomes devastating.  TaeGukGi really slows down when this happens, and also takes about forty-five minutes to get into its groove.  These annoying moments contrast very sharply with Kang's battlefield confrontations between Jin-Seok and Jin-Tae, which are powerful in their intensity. 

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 20 minutes, Korean with English subtitles, Rated R for strong graphic sequences of war violence.

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