More than two hours and 57,500 fired-bullets long, according to press material, My Way is an epic Second World War movie with terse, often curious subtitles helping us through two theatres of war and five languages: Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian and German.
Well, not always helping. The subtitles sometimes get in the way, in fact. Early in the film an evil Japanese commander tortures Korean recruits with a taunt from the Monty Python Ministry of Silly Ethnic Slurs: "Kimchi-breath!"
Kimchi-breath? Well, you know how the Koreans like their soaked vegetables.
Though routinely preposterous, My Way is drawn from a real-life incident: a 1944 photo of a captured Korean soldier wearing a Nazi uniform after D-Day. How did he get there?
According to South Korean filmmaker Kang Je-gyu ( Shiri), what might have happened was a village feud got all out of control. A great marathoner, Tatsuo (Jô Odagiri) is the son of a Japanese overlord stationed in Korea. Tatsuo's only sporting rival, ironically, is his equally proud Korean servant, the splendidly athletic Jun-shik (South Korean superstar, Jan Dong-gun).
The boys race to represent Korea in the Olympics. War interrupts their duel, alas, dropping the archenemies in the middle of the Axis powers' race to conquer the world. Soon Jun-shik is under villainous Tatsuo's command, part of a Japanese suicide mission to dismantle Russian tanks. Several battles later, both are captured by the enemy and are part of a Russian suicide mission to blow up advancing German tanks and artillery.
Escaping the dastardly Germans by climbing up, over and sliding down the Alps (hey, they're marathoners!) Tatsuo and Jun-shik end up on the beaches of Normandy, facing off for the last time.
The big-budget ($25-million) South Korean film is a mash-up of Chariots of Fire and Saving Private Ryan linked together with pounding orchestral swells. The film too often gets stuck in a shooter video game groove upon entering Spielberg domain, however.
Suicide missions stretch into five minute interludes as soldier after soldier, dozens in a row sometimes, pull the pin on grenades and hop screaming into or under a tank.
All those lusty banzai attacks are theoretically made okay by the film's concluding spiritual message, a weepy paean to universal brotherhood.
Sorry, no sale. Adolescent boys will savour My Way's bombast and solemnity. Cringing adult audiences will more likely beat a retreat before final call. For the marathon battle film is just another anti-war movie that wants to have its cake and blow it up real good, too.
Special to The Globe and Mail
- Directed by Kang Je-gyu
- Written by Byung-in Kim, Nah hyun
- Starring Dong-gun Jang, Jô Odagiri and Bingbing Fan
- Classification: 18A
- 2 stars