TaeGukGi is the asian equvilant of Saving Private Ryan. This is a story of two brothers, Jin-Tae and Jin-Seok. Jin-Tae works hard and tries to save money for his younger brother’s education. However, on June 25, 1950 the Korean War begins. Many young men are recruited right from the streets. When Jin-Seok is enlisted, although he was not supposed to be, Jin-Tae enlists too and swears to their mother to protect his younger brother and send him home at the first opportunity. The theme of brotherly sacrifice is a popular one in Asian cinema, but it is used here for more than its melodramatic appeal.
Over the course of a year or so the two brothers will go from young men to hardened soldiers. The film focuses on a war that has gotten little to no attention from American cinema and shows sides of it that I was not familiar with. If you think you can stomach the violence than it is recommended. The first major battle sequence occurs in the early weeks of the Korean War when the North Koreans have all but taken the South. The Lee brothers and their unit are surrounded by the Nakdong River and are being starved to death. This creates for a brutal and intense scene. Tae Guk Gi’s story goes deep into the heart of Korean national identity. Both sides are equally cruel to ordinary villagers who are just trying to survive. The remainder of the film explores the progress of this war with great detail, leaving no battle untold and visually depicting the atrocities of war.
I found the ending of the movie to be highly artistic. If one approaches the movie from a realistic standpoint, it is easy to see that it is extremely unrealistic that the younger brother would be able to find his older brother in the midst of a battleground. It is unfair to try and compare this movie to any other war movie and criticize it. The last few years have seen an overflow of Asian movies hit the scene here in the States. Most have been disappointing and most get lost in their own beauty. For many, a good story like this one is far more important than looking for revolutionary industry wizardry.
Another thing that bugged me about the film was the convenient dodging of enemy fire. I recalled early in the film that anyone can be killed in the next second by a stray bullet, yet characters jump up and amusingly dodge enemy fire like its nothing. Tae Guk Gi’s emotional score is bland and predictable, but it’s a solid film to be sure, though it’s solid for the same reasons a lot of other films are solid and this diminishes any impact of novelty. Given the context of this film most people will automatically give it a high score and it is definitely worth sitting through to see the moments where the film finally comes into its own, but overall there are a lot of problems with this film that I can’t overlook.