Framing the story with a report of a Korean man in German attire being found after the battle of Normandy, this two-and-a-half-hour gore-fest steps back to the Japanese colonization of Korea, where the Japanese grandfather of antagonist Tatsuo (Jo Odagiri) employs young Korean Jun-shik (Jang Dong-Gun) at his farm. Ultimately, both boys focus on becoming marathon runners in the Tokyo Olympics, starting a bitter rivalry that follows them into their days in the army, where Jun-shik is forced to fight with Japanese soldiers regardless of his political beliefs.
Inevitably, Tatsuo tortures and lords his influence over the slightly more determined and focused Jun-shik, ensuring that our Korean protagonist is given ample opportunity to overcome hardship and demonstrate the sort of forgiveness necessary in humans to avoid war altogether. Amidst this overly strained thematic trajectory is an endless series of relentlessly brutal battle scenes that take full advantage of the inflated budget, with endless explosions, overhead shots and an endless supply of machinery and extras.
Men are run over by tanks, Japanese soldiers blow themselves up under Russian tanks to take them out, bodies are mangled and blown to bits, and bullets fly everywhere, ensuring a constant spray of blood. It's brutal and terrifyingly real, aside from the cheesy slow motion and occasional sequence of Jun-shik dodging bullets from a plane in an open field and surviving other illogical physical attacks, like being blown into a tank by an exploding grenade and walking around unaffected 30 seconds later.
While the battles take these soldiers from their home turf to Russia to Germany, fighting on a different side of the war each time, the actual aesthetics of the film never fail to impress, pulling out all the stops to ensure that this overly protracted story is as grandiose as possible.
It's just unfortunate that they step back to let the characters talk, seeing as they're merely one-note ciphers existing only to rehash the existing formula of the genre. (CJ Entertainment)