Published Nov 01, 2004South Korea's biggest box office hit ever (grossing over $69 million in Asia alone) is invading North American shores. Grand in scope, Tae Guk Gi is a Hollywood war movie made by Koreans for Koreans about a seminal event in the history of this divided nation.
The Korean War of 1950 to '53 pitted the Communist north (backed by the Chinese) against the capitalist south (and their American allies). The war claimed nearly a million lives, tore families apart and continues to divide the Korean people today. Kang Je-gyu's epic follows two brothers forced to join the war. The older, stronger JinTae (Asian superstar Jang Dong-gun) fights recklessly yet bravely to guarantee passage home for his younger, smarter brother JinSoek (Won Bin). The family's survival lies in securing JinSoek's higher education. However, JinTae's bloodthirsty rise through the army ranks hardens his heart and ultimately divides the brothers, symbolising the ideological schism between North and South Korea.
Tae Guk Gi (the name of the South Korean flag) is a lavish production that rivals Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan with its bloody battle sequences and endless body count. Deaths are horrifying and realistic; war crimes are committed by both sides without apology; anarchy reigns; a starving soldier goes mad and murders his wounded comrades inside a medical tent before blowing off his own skull; and there is no romanticism of combat.
Unfortunately Kang Je-gyu scores all of his "important moments" with syrupy music and heavy-handed emotion. Let's leave the sentimentality to Hollywood, please. The film's main accomplishment lies in telling a chapter of Asian history from the point of view of Asians without being filtered through the condescending and racist Hollywood sensibilities (i.e., The Deer Hunter). The film's portrayal of the horrors of war is universal. Despite its flaws, Tae Guk Gi is passionate filmmaking that will grip audiences. (Capri)