Is there ever going to be an end to the production of World War II movies? Year after year, these films based on true stories from World War II just keep on pouring into theaters. Civil War movies may be out (the genre possibly killed off by Gettysburg and Gods & Generals) and Vietnam War movies may be too controversial to be made anymore. But the World War II movie keeps on getting produced and continues to entertain all. World War II seems to be the most beneficial war to movie studios. If there is one war genre that never dies, it is the World War II movie. South Korea has now added a very original one to the genre. My Way is a film that shows how Koreans were forced to join the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.
Inspired by a real life 1944 photo that shows a Korean soldier being captured while wearing a Nazi uniform, the film revolves around the relationship between two marathon runners – Korean Kim Joon-sik (Dong-gun Jang, the main star of The Warrior’s Way) and Japanese Tatsuo Hasegawa (Jô Odagiri, the main star from Shinobi). They first meet as boys at a government gathering in Japanese-occupied Korea during the early 1930s. Since Joon-sik is the son of one of the domestic staff of the Japanese embassy and Tatsuo is the son of a Japanese diplomat, Tatsuo pulls the “I’m better than you because I’m upper class and you are low class scum” shtick. Both kids are devoted runners and instantly form a rivalry as running partners. Already playing a spoiled brat, Tatsuo becomes even more of an a-hole to Joon-sik once Tatsuo’s grandfather is killed by a bomb hidden in a package that is hand-delivered by Joon-sik’s father to Tatsuo’s grandfather. Basically, the father was just bringing the mail to the grandfather, but the patriotic Tatsuo more or less blames Joon-sik and Koreans for his grandfather’s death. The film then fast forwards to the late 1930s with the two main characters grown up and still marathon rivalries. As they are both eager to join the Olympics, the occupying Japanese do not allow any Koreans to try out for the Olympics. Angry that their champion Joon-sik is unfairly treated, the Korean crowd starts a riot with Japanese soldiers and officials, which leads the group, including Joon-sik, to be forced to join the Imperial Japanese Army. The two rivals meet again in the military where Tatsou is the commander of the unit which includes Joon-sik and other Korean pals. Even though these Koreans are fighting with the Japanese, Tatsuo and the other Japanese commanders are extremely cruel to their Korean mates. As they plan to fight the Russians, one example of how the Japanese take their hatred too far is when they compile a kamikaze platoon only made up of Korean soldiers rather than Japanese soldiers.
The turning point in the film is the depiction of the Battle of Khalkhin Gol in 1939, when the Russians absolutely slaughter the Japanese. In one of the most memorable scenes of the movie, I’ve never seen a more impressive attack by tanks on film. Tatsuo and Joon-sik are then taken as war prisoners and sent to the Russian Gulag labor camps where they both start to question their beliefs and past actions.
If you want to know how they end up as Nazi soldiers, watch the film. I don’t want to spoil all the surprises!
My Way pulls a hat trick that I rarely see in war films. While the “true story” element may be quite a stretch, My Way is composed of so many interesting layers which should satisfy most cinema fans.
As a sucker for sports movies, I loved the Chariots of Fire-style story within My Way. Even with all the obstacles Joon-sik faces, nothing will stop him from running. As a rickshaw driver, as a soldier forced to join the Japanese and German armies, and as a prisoner of war in Russia, he just continues to train and focus on what is really important to him – running. Always watching him along the way is conflicted Tatsuo, who is filled with a whole spectrum of emotions for his Korean rival – hate, envy, jealousy, and even respect. The sports story is really wonderful and had me in tears by the end of the film.
I know that graphic violence shouldn’t really be glamorized and filmed in a flashy technique in war movies, but My Way manages to successfully combine realistic-looking, gritty warfare scenes with some pretty awesome visually creative ones. Since this movie is one big spectacle Hollywood-style film and is not trying to be some critically deep film like Schindler’s List or Paths of Glory, I don’t feel guilty thinking about the eye candy in this film. As I will watch this movie again in the future, I will be looking forward to those few visually amazing scenes such as a slo-mo sniper scene, the airplane gunner scene, the airplane bunker bombing scene, and the Russian attack with a gazillion tanks. As much as I was moved by this film, I can’t ignore those scenes and they will definitely increase the rewatchability factor. Think of this film like James Cameron’s Titanic – a visual spectacle that’s moving, as well as with awesome visuals! My Way is like Saving Private Ryan with some action scenes directed by Zach Snyder.
My Way is also a very unique war film due to its absorbing story whether it is true or not. Similar to the war film Europa Europa (where a Jewish boy joins the Nazi party to escape the Holocaust), the perspective in this film is really interesting. Without giving too much away, how can one not be intrigued by a Korean guy who is forced to join the Japanese army, fights the Russian army during the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, becomes a POW in Russia, is forced to join the German army, and fights the allied forces on the beaches of Normandy? This is a fascinating story basically about a guy who just wants to get back home – the obstacles may be outrageous and unrealistic but, once again, as this is a big-budget, grandiose Hollywood-style film, My Way is cinema gold.
My Way’s 1080p 2.35:1 video transfer is incredibly detailed, crisp, vibrant, and absolutely perfect from beginning to end. From the streets of 1930s Korea, to the many battlefields, to the snowy Russian winter, and to the beaches of Normandy, the video offers a great mix of colorful landscapes with each one standing out and not conflicting with each other. Whether it be faces, clothing, vehicles, guns, buildings, grassy fields, you’ll notice sharpness and detail wherever you look. This transfer is pretty much free of any problems – you will be very impressed with this video!
Be careful! The Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 will make you flinch and duck as you are also in the middle of the battles! Bullets ricochet around the room during battles. Explosions and the rumble of the Russian tanks will cause the subwoofer to damage your house or apartment! This is a truly immersive reference-quality audio experience. And by the way, when things are not exploding, the dialogue is totally clear.
Korean DD 2.0, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English DD 2.0, as well as English subtitles are also included.
The only negative with this Blu-ray are the light extras, which are basically two short and generic featurettes. A little more history about Koreans serving in the Nazi army would have been interesting, since the “true story” element from this movie seems a bit exaggerated. I have a feeling that the “real photo” was just a picture of a German dude with Korean blood. But either way, this World War II film is the type of movie that is not here to give us a history lesson, so don’t get caught up in what is supposed to be real or based on true story.
– Making Of (9:03)
– Interview With Jang Dong-Gun and Director Kang Je-Kyu (5:52)
After not directing a film for seven years, Je-Kyu Kang released this 25 million dollar epic My Way into Korean theaters in 2011. Although he has only directed four films over a course of 16 years, this is the director who originally got me into Korean films back in the early 2000s. If I had not discovered his masterpiece thriller Shiri, I would have still been only watching Chinese martial-arts films. With Shiri, he opened my eyes up to the Korean film industry. His previous film, Tae Guk Gi (also a war film), was fair and I could not get into it. Actually, most of the Korean war/military films I’ve seen over the years such as Tae Guk Gi, Joint Security Area, Welcome to Dongmakgol have been too melodramatic for me. So if you too have seen a few Korean war-related films and weren’t impressed – don’t worry – My Way is the best war film from South Korea I’ve ever seen. I’m happy to add My Way to one of my favorite Korean films of all time, along with Shiri, Bichunmoo, Oldboy, and I Saw the Devil.
I really loved My Way and this reference quality Blu-ray from Well Go USA is the only way to watch this film. Rent it or buy it!