My Way, a Pacific Rim Showcase presentation Monday at the just-concluded Newport Beach Film Festival, opened today at Edwards University Town Center. So brutal and vividly shot you'd swear Mel Gibson directed it, the most expensive film in South Korean cinema history actually comes from Kang Je-gyu after a seven-year break from the director's chair.
"Based on true events," and from a script by the director and Kim Byung-in, My Way has been described as that nation's answer to Saving Private Ryan, but the newer World War II epic is more violent, graphic and emotionally charged. It begins by introducing Jook-sik (Jang Dong Gun) and Tatsuo (Odagirl Jo), rival Olympic class runners who are also foes because of their nationalities and circumstances. Jook-sik is Korean and works on a farm colonized by the Japanese and owned by Tatsuo's grandfather. A violent incident early in the picture drives the two young men even farther apart.
Before they can realize their Olympic dreams, war breaks out and both are forced to enlist in the Japanese army. A year later, Jook-sik finds himself under the command of Tatsuo, by then a Japanese Imperial Army captain. Bitter enemies are forced to lean on one another to survive, something that repeats itself throughout the picture.
The production includes scenes shot in Korea, China, Latvia and Germany, as the depicted battles sweep continents like the war itself. The film reportedly cost $23 million to make, but you'd swear the price tag exceeded $100 million (anyone check the exchange rate lately?). Translation costs alone must have been staggering as characters speak their native Korean, Japanese, Russian, German, Chinese and English. Subtitles on the version playing in Irvine are in English, of course.
If you turn your head away from violence--real violence, not the cartoonish version ala a Tarantino--then you may go Linda Blair with My Way. That said, Kang Je-gyu and cinematographer Lee Mo-gae present some truly remarkable closeups, battle scenes and eye-dropping landscapes. Near the end of the picture, a camera pans overhead from a battlefield at Normandy onto the beach and then out to the war ships at sea. It's reverse-Spielbergian! Ah, another rivalry is born.
Screenings of My Way continue at Edwards University today at 3:35, 6:50 and 9:55 p.m. Check your favorite movie site for showtimes throughout the week.
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Here is the Korean trailer: