Kang Je-gyu's
Tae Guk Gi
The Brotherhood of War
Korean with English Subtitles
Opens Sept. 10, 2004
(Continued from Film)

Reviewed by Stephanie Alberico

According to the press release, "Tae Guk Gi," is the most expensive Korean film ever produced at a budget of $14 million. It has also become Korea's highest grossing film of all time. Kang Je-gyu is now opening his movie in the United States after the amazing success it has seen in Asia. "Tae Guk Gi," is named after the national flag of South Korea. It symbolizes the universe and nature.

The movie begins modern-day. An elderly South Korean man, Jin-seok Lee, and his granddaughter receive a call about some bones found from the Korean War. The man then flashes back to the 1950's to begin telling his story. Jin-tae Lee, played by Jang Dong-gun, is the older brother of the two and supports his family by shining shoes. Jin-seok Lee, played by Won Bin, is the younger and more educated brother.

They are both involuntarily drafted in the war and ripped away from their families. Jin-tae watches protectively over his younger brother during the war. He tries incessantly to get him discharged from service to return home and care for their family. The two brothers are thrown into a viscous war of violence and tragedy.

Most of the scenes look like something out of a horror film, with blood and guts covering the screen. These scenes are gory, bloody, and gut-wrenching. Think "Saving Private Ryan," Korean-style. In one scene, a soldier's leg is blown off and blood pours out of his stomach from a bullet-wound, as he fights for his life. Make sure to leave the kids at home.

The battle scenes are also visceral and extravagant. One soldier cannot handle the pressures of war, so shoots himself in the head with a rifle. A close-up reveals his head in a pool of blood. Another soldier's torso is diseased with maggots. Soldiers burn corpses and murder innocent victims. Half of a man's face is burned off, as smoke billows from his head. Men's limbs are blown off in every direction.

Sound repulsive? It was. I even had to cover my eyes for many of the
scenes. Nonetheless, the horror and reality left me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of what came next. But don't worry, the director didn't forget to leave room for comic relief either. After the soldiers have been starving for days, they are rewarded with a banquet of food. They shove their faces with food and giggle like school children. I felt the relief and enjoyment of this meal right along with the men. Jin-tae even brings Jin-seok a giant Hershey's bar and gives him a drunk pep talk.

This film not only depicts the atrocities of war, but the effect the
violence had on the psychological descent of the soldiers' minds. Jin-tae soon becomes crazed and obsessed with the violence as he gains power at different battle scenes. He then focuses his motivation on winning the medal of honor, at all costs. Jin-seok recognizes his older brother's fatal mistake and tries to remind him of the life he left behind-his home, his fiancée, and their mother.

Back home, Jin-tae's fiancée, Young-Shin, is forced to sign up for rallies to feed their family. The government could not provide food or supplies for their people. Many starved to death.

"Join the communists or die," becomes the central theme of the film. Kang Je-gyu's resentment and hatred for communist North Korea becomes obvious throughout the film.

After some victorious scenes, it seems as though the war may end and both brothers will return home safely. Jin-tae wins the medal of honor for capturing a sergeant alive. But as in all tragedies, the war and the story take a turn for the worst. Even more death and tragedies occur and Jin-tae's mentality deteriorates completely.

"He is not the brother I once knew. He has changed," Jin-seok dictates. The war's destructive path continues and kills more innocent people. Massive explosions and horrendous battle scenes fill up the film until the very end. I felt sick to my stomach by the end of the film. My head was pounding and I was fighting back tears.

Finally, bomber jets attack from the air and machine guns spit bullets
from every direction. Yet, the action never gets in the way of the movie's most important lesson: A brother's love is unconditional and they are willing to kill and die for each other.

The film is an emotional and tear-jerking adventure in and of itself. It had the ability to make me jump from fright, cry, and then suddenly laugh out loud. I was so entranced by the film, I even forgot all about subtitles.

Jang Dong-gun and Won Bin provide award-winning performances, which is sure to leave audiences riveted. I fell in love with Won Bin for his heartfelt performance. Jang Dong-gun portrayed an emotionally unstable, psychotic soldier with ease.

The Korean War or "The Forgotten War" was a brutal fight, which tore
families apart and left most Koreans confused about what they were fighting for. One of the ending scenes will forever be burned in my mind. Jin-seok returns to the war to try to save his brother one last time, but Jin-tae is so far gone that he does not even recognize his own brother. Jin-tae tries numerous times to kill his own brother and they are brutally beating each other to the verge of death. Jin-tae finally snaps out of it and recognizes his brother, whom he thought was dead. The brothers share a moment of undying love, before the fatal end of their relationship. I tricked myself into believing the ending would not turn out tragic, despite all of the clues.

"Tae Guk Gi," is sure to haunt audiences in the United States, as it has already done in Asia. It will probably even tempt you to call your brother and tell him how much you love him. Just be sure not to see this one on a full stomach.


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