Tae Guk Gi -
Brotherhood of War
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Date: February 15, 2005
Review posted: February 21, 2005
Jin-tae, a shoemaker, has worked tirelessly to provide
money for Jin-seok, his younger brother, to go to college. But each
of their hopes and dreams are shattered when both are forced to join
the army against their will. Torn away from their home and family,
Jin-tae vows to protect Jin-seok despite the dangers – and the cost.
In the searing crucible of battle, fate intervenes, forcing their
bonds of faith, love and trust to be tested time and again.
This film has
been compared over and over again to Saving Private Ryan, a
comparison that is not unfair. The tone of both films is similar, as
is the gritty, bloody mud on the camera style of shooting. Saving
Private Ryan opens with a trip to a cemetery, where a World War II
veteran is overcome with memories of the war. Tae Guk Gi opens
on a cemetery of a different kind. A group of South Korean
archeologists is excavating an old battlefield, and they come across
some remains they believe to belong to Jin-seok. Jin-seok, still
living, believes they might be the remains of his brother, missing
since the end of the war. He quickly packs his bags and sets out with
his granddaughter to see for himself.
the film flashes back to a time just before the North crossed the 38th
Parallel. The main strength of this film is its recreation of the
time, the confusion and insanity. High tension and high tempers
dominated as the South was caught completely off guard by the surprise
invasion. Men between the ages of 18 and 30 were taken off the
streets and conscripted into the South Korean army, a ragtag force of
inexperienced, ill-trained soldiers who learned as they went along.
In the early stages, they had no food, they were losing battle after
battle, and their supply lines were cut. It is easy to forget how
perilously close North Korea came to uniting the country; they were
within a victory or two before things turned around.
It is in this
environment that Jin-tae (Jang Dong-Gun) changes from the innocent
shoeshine boy into the embittered, hardcore killer he becomes. When
it is learned that Jin-tae and Jin-seok are brothers, their commanding
officer can hardly believe it. “I thought they were only supposed to
take one per family,” he says. Jin-tae immediately wants to know how
he can send his brother home. His commander tells him that he has to
give to get, and that if he distinguishes himself, Jin-seok can go
home. Jin-tae goes all out, putting his soul into the war.
scenes in this film, and there are many, are like a brutal punch to
the gut. The filmmakers spared no amount of gore in depicting gunshot
wounds, booby-trapped bodies, land mines, and other battle ordinance.
What lacked in training was made up for in the pitched, bitter
fighting that made up this war. Everything is face-to-face, dirty,
hand to hand combat. They did not have the luxury of air support or
artillery, so they had to do it all themselves, often under the worst
battlefield conditions. This film depicts those scenes with a kind of
stark realism that can become hard to watch after a while.
Tae Guk Gi
has many strengths, but it also has some glaring weaknesses. At
roughly two-and-a-half hours, the film really shows its length; the
pacing could have been better. Saving Private Ryan, which runs
almost the same length, does not feel half as long as Tae Guk Gi.
The film also loses focus as it goes on, and devolves into such over
sentimentality that it becomes hard to take seriously. There is a
scene where the two brothers come to the aid of Jin-tae’s girlfriend,
who is believed to be a communist sympathizer. The scene feels too
long and too out of place that late in the film. The sentimentality
in the film is almost impossible to take seriously, especially as we
get deeper into the film, so painfully melodramatic that it is hard to
watch. It is as if the filmmakers were not sure we would get it, so
they had to beat us over the head with how the characters were
feeling. The biggest problem is one of focus. Trying to fit the
entire Korean War into one film is a massive undertaking. Perhaps a
more narrow focus would have given us a bigger picture.
Tae Guk Gi
is presented in the original 2.35:1 shooting ratio. The transfer is
pristine, and all of the film’s gritty photography is expertly
rendered. From the blood-on-the-camera battlefield shots to the more
epic victory shots, all the colors are well translated, and the
overall picture is sharp.
This DVD is
presented in Korean and English, both languages in 5.1 Dolby Digital.
The presentation is solid, with all levels coming through crisply.
The sounds of war make this film, and they are rendered well here.
Us: Historians and
Korean war veterans talk about how the war broke out, what the
fighting conditions were like, and the long march home.
Focuses on the early stages of the film, the inspiration and very
early pre-production. The filmmakers talk about what brought them to
the project and what they were working on before.
Project: Talks about the
budgeting and marketing challenges inherent in making the most
expensive Korean film of all time. There was a preconception at the
time that big budget films did not work at the box office, and the
producer of the film talks about overcoming that and other challenges.
For Tae Guk Gi: A
look at the training and preparation for the film that the actors went
through. We look at everything from casting to costumes.
Behind the Camera: The
film’s director of photography, production designer, and visual
effects supervisor all talk about what brought them to the project,
what kind of tests they performed leading up to the shoot, and what
their working process was like.
behind-the-scenes featurette that shows mostly the first day of
shooting and the impressions of the cast and crew once they have
Multi-Angle Storyboard Comparison:
A look at a key scene from the film, with the option to view the film,
the storyboard, or both together.
stills from throughout the film.
Trailer: The original
Tae Guk Gi
is a solid film, and one of the best war movies to come out recently.
The bonus material here gives us a detailed look at the making of the
film, and the audio-video presentation is superb. While the film has
been slightly over praised, it is still quite well done and worth
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