• OVERALL
    4.5
    SUPERB
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE FEATURE
To me, American war films have been a drag lately. It seems that ever since the success of the brutally real Saving Private Ryan, other filmmakers jumped on the genre train. While war flicks tend to rake in a large chunk of profit from audiences, I've never been able to get into them these days. The fact of the matter is, I love war films with a passion. But I will not deny that most of them are clichéd despite their supposed historical accuracy. You've seen the recycled devices before-- the token Southern soldier named Tex, the quiet soldier that is marked for death because he shows a picture of his wife to the platoon, etc. With the dreadfully dull The Alamo and the ridiculous Michael Bay-concocted Pearl Harbor, war films of recent years have burned this movie fan out.

Perhaps I'm fed up on elements of patriotism and romance. Sure I am proud to be an American, but the reminder nationalism has been really played out. Not to mention the pictures that try to work in tear-jerking love stories.

Earlier this week I received a copy of Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War for review. Being that the film is from Korea, I had never heard of the title. After researching I found that Brotherhood is the highest grossing film in Korea. I watched the film and came face to face with an example of what American war films are missing. Brotherhood of War is a gripping tale of familial bonds, and the insanity and rage that comes with war.

Jin-tae (Dong-Kun Jang) is a hard-working shoe shiner living in 1950's South Korea with aspirations of one day being a crafted shoemaker. His younger brother Jin-seok is an 18-year-old student. Hoping that Jin-seok will one day find a successful career and provide for their family, Jin-tae watches after his younger brother and pushes him to do well in school. Life seems like a beautiful picture until North Korea invades South Korea pushing its communist propaganda, which leads to the Korean War.

A Korean draft is put into effect and men between 18 and 30 are gathered off the street and sent into battle. Unfortunately the two brothers are among the unlucky civilians. With heart problems and a naïve innocence about him, Jin-seok is in no condition to do battle. This does not sway the military's decision to make the boy fight.

Jin-tae desperately tries to protect his brother by going to the farthest extreme. By insanely accepting suicide missions, Jin-tae hopes he will die in honor giving his younger brother a one-way ticket home. However, his plan does not go the way it was originally intended. Madly running into enemy grounds Jin-tae unexpectedly becomes a successful killing machine. As the soldiers around him are gunned down, Jin-tae is constantly honored and becomes accustomed to so much killing and receiving respect from his comrades. The relationship between Jin-tae and Jin-seok is put to the test as Jin-seok questions the older brother he never knew, and Jin-tae comes to terms with the madness of war.

After seeing this film, I read a few reviews. Many critics have compared it to Saving Private Ryan, because of it's gruesome battle scenes, and Pearl Harbor because of the brotherly relationship between lead characters. I understand comparing this superb war film to Private Ryan, but Pearl Harbor? Just because two men are close during the war does not mean Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett should immediately come to mind.

Brotherhood does have its share of harsh fighting like (or even more than) Private Ryan, and it does emphasize the relationship between these two brothers to create character attachment, but I see Brotherhood of War as a unique war film that stands alone from the others. For once after a long while it is a relief to see a film from a different country's perspective. While I've seen a fair share of the hardships that the American fighters had to undergo in film, seeing things through the eyes of South Korea in the Korean War is a new and unique experience.

The change of perspective is simply one aspect of what makes Brotherhood of War fascinating. The battle scenes are extremely well orchestrated and the direction captures 1950's Korea remarkably. What really wins my praise is the performance by Dong-Kun Jang as Jin-tae. Starting out as a harmless shoe shiner with no military experience, Jin-tae is abruptly put into battle. While his priority is to protect his brother, the war slowly changes him and I could feel his emotions every step of the way. Jin-tae becomes a ruthless fighter that has tasted blood and wants more. Most characters in film that experience such violent tendencies are regarded as psychos, but I could only sympathize with the man. Although the character commits horrendous acts such as gunning down a fellow comrade that was forced with death to join the commies, I could feel the frustration and rage bubbling inside him and cringe at the toll war can have on a man.

THE EXTRAS
The extras are a plenty on an entire second disc.

Featurettes include:

6.25 and Us

Taking away from the focus on filmmaking, this doc*mentary interviews war vets and historians about the Korean War. This is especially captivating for history buffs as countless interviews are presented with video footage of the war. It may take a little patience, but listening to stories from the men who were actually there is wonderfully informative.

Creation

This particular doc*mentary is about the pre-production or "creation" of the film. Writer/director Kang Je-Gyu runs through the usual obstacles of creating the roots for a picture: writing the script, coming up with a title, etc. This is very detailed and is a great introduction to the featurettes to follow.

War Project

This is probably my favorite of the bunch. The director and producer talk about the difficulties of making an accurate war film. I would say these interviews reinforce my respect for the movie as the filmmakers were very passionate about making things right. This includes finding as much real equipment as possible so CGI use could be avoided. Very much worth the watch!

Preparing for Tae Guk Gi

The actors are interviewed about their preparation for a war film. I expected this to cover the high-endurance training that the actors had to undergo to play soldiers at war, but this is more about how the actors prepared for their characters. Still, this is not bad despite my high expectations for more action.

The People Behind the Camera

This time around the people that make the film so stunning are given a chance to talk. Everyone from the cinematographer to the explosives experts talk here. It is fitting that some of the most talented people from behind the scenes are given props for their talents here.

Making History

Shot in video-diary fashion, this is a making of featurette of the movie in general. Clocking in at around 45 minutes, this is the longest doc*mentary of the features. Unlike standard EPK docs, this one is straight to the point without the glitz and glamour. I couldn't ask for anything more out of a feature.

Multi-Angle Storyboards

This gives the viewer the chance to see select scenes in original film format, or storyboard format. This is ok, I suppose, if you are into this type of thing. I am more of a sucker for doc*mentaries than just gawking at concept drawings.
THE VIDEO
Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1), Mastered in High Definition. This is as superb as epic war films get. Everything from the gritty, bloody war grounds, to the beautiful Korean landscapes is presented on DVD in pure magnificence.
THE AUDIO
Korean (English Subtitles) 5.1 Dolby Digital. Equipped for a surround sound experience, the action war film delivers. The beautiful score and sound of whizzing bullets provide an astonishing, cinematic experience.
THE PACKAGE
Standard DVD keep case. The cover shows Jin-tae and Jin-seok in battle gear. The overprotective, concerned look on Jin-tae's face and the sad innocent eyes of Jin-seok describe the plot quite well without even using words.

THE FINAL WORD
The Brotherhood of War is an epic war picture that is far from being conventional. In fact, this is probably one of the best war films I have ever seen. The film educated me on a war rarely covered in American pictures (the Korean War) and provides a perfect balance between human drama and dynamic war depictions. Brotherhood of War is a gruesome, heartfelt example of how war films should be made.

Questions? Comments? Drop me a line at dodd@movieweb.com

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