My Way (Mai Wei)

Although the US’s post-war plan for Japan could be considered very humane, it’s sort of interesting to note that WWII-era Japan was monstrous, and now they can’t even be bothered to reproduce. I mean, they’re so goofy on so many cultural levels, we forget that they were comparable to Nazi Germany in their atrocities, perhaps killing as many as ten million people.

I mention this because, as you might imagine, Imperial Japan’s victims in Korea, China and Russia haven’t forgotten.

Which brings us to this epic war film, the Korean movie My Way. The Boy loved this film, and he asked me what I thought of it, because I was laughing through parts of it that weren’t especially funny. But it wasn’t a mocking laughter, but kind of a sardonic one, mixed with a kind of incredulity.

This is just a balls-out patriotic war movie taking one of the oldest storylines in the book and creating a sweeping fable that is appropriately anti-war but not punishingly so. In other words, where modern war movies all have to remind us how awful war is, they often can’t stop preaching long enough to relish the chaos, destruction and gore in the manner of a boy playing with toy soldiers (which, after all, is what a war movie is, sans pretensions).

We’re not being lectured or shamed for enjoying the movie, which is nice.

The story concerns a Japanese boy who comes with his family to rule over a Korean prefecture (I think that’s the right one) and discovers they are served by a Korean family with a boy of their own, who loves to run and is famed for being the best in the city. The Japanese boy, convinced of Japanese superiority immediately competes, and we flash forward to the two as young adults, still racing in bigger and bigger races, and trading off wins.

Though the Korean wins slightly more. ‘cause, hey, Korean movie.

Also, the Korean man, Jun-shik, wins the Olympic trials—even over the Japanese trying to trip him up with dirty tricks—but the Japanese judges disqualify him. This leads to a riot and Jun-shik and all his friends being sent to the Mongolian front to fight for the Japanese. The Japanese man, Tatsuo, is there leading the troops, and he’s just gotten meaner and crazier.

The Japanese guy—he’s way over-the-top evil. Looks evil. Acts like a maniac.

Korean movie.

But! Remember: The Japanese were maniacs. They did really crazy, evil stuff. A lot of it to Koreans.

Anyway, the battle goes bad and our two heroes get captured by the Soviets, and are pressed into service…fighting the Germans! But now the shoe’s on another foot, and Tatsuo is no longer the boss. And when he’s being treated like he treated his own men, well, he doesn’t like it one bit.

Well, pretty soon, they’re captured by the Germans. And before you know it, they’re at Normandy.

It’s definitely a credit to this movie that I’m still rooting for these guys, even though by this point, it’s American soldiers they’re fighting. The war left them long ago, and they’re ten thousand miles from home, just trying not to get killed.

Subtlety is not in the director’s vocabulary, at least not here, but I’d rather watch this movie than Saving Private Ryan, for an example of another less-than-subtle war movie.

The music is similarly on-the-nose.

The two-hours and twenty minutes whiz by, and hit nearly every cliché you’d find in American war movies of the ’40s and ’50s, and it seems kind of tragic we couldn’t do this sort of thing here and now. Still, it’s fun to see the Koreans do it.

And it’s done with big budget effects (only a little goofy with the CGI blood).

Tragically, this was as big a bomb in Korea as (I think) an American version would be here. So I doubt we’ll be seeing many more like it.

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