Friday, 24 August 2012

filmbore pick of the week - Brotherhood

Brotherhood (Tae Guk Gi) Je-gyu Kang
Screenplay: Je-gyu Kang, Sang-dom Kim, Ji-hoon Han
Starring: Don-gun Jang, Bin Won
Year: 2004
Language: Korean
UK rental release: October 2005

Rotten Tomatoes

When it comes to watching a war movie, there's a plethora of choices available, be it Second World War, Vietnam, The Great War, The American Civil War, even cold wars in even colder surroundings under water - there's just too many to pick from! If you're stumped, let me help you out...just watch Brotherhood.

In 1950, South Korea, two brothers of a poor family have little to show for their life, but they are happy. The younger of the two, Jin-seok Lee (Bin Won, Mother, The Man From Nowhere) could bring further joy to his relatives as he has a promising future in medicine, something his older brother, Jin-tae Lee (Don-gung Jang, The Warrior's Way, The Coast Guard) is overwhelmingly proud of. He envisions polishing shoes for an eternity if it means it will pay his sibling's way through university.

Then, as North Korea invades their homeland their lives are forced down a different route. A brief self-exile cannot prevent the inevitable, as Jin-seok is enlisted into the ROK army. Jin-tae sees a brighter fate for his brother, and attempts to submit himself in Jin-seok's place, relying on a draft raised specifying that only one son per family be enrolled. Through the confusion, both of them end up in the ROK army. Jin-tae still believes that he should be the only son to represent his family's name in this civil war and, unbeknownst to Jin-seok, agrees to do whatever it takes to send his brother home. If he achieves enough accolade to receive a medal of bravery, then he would get his wish.

Jin-tae's relentless attempts to succeed, and his brother's pride and determination to be a great soldier are the seeds to their gradual deterioration as siblings, and as the tale unfolds we witness the creation of a chivalrous knight engulfed in the insanity of war, and the evolution of a boy into a man....little do they know that these changes will determine their future relationship with each other.
Brotherhood has been frequently labelled as "Korea's answer to Saving Private Ryan" and it's clear to see why. The large scale production of the piece, in tune with the personal aspect of our leading men's tale has a familiar vibe to the Spielberg epic. However, delving deeper into the film reveals a war story with incredible individuality. It's fair to say that its comparison to it's Normandy-storming cousin exists because it's difficult to mirror the film with anything else.

The constant throughout is the morphing of tenacity to fragility of the brother's connection. As far as war movies go, this is the most detailed and colourful that I have seen the battlefield affect the emotions and relationships of men. This is, in part, due to the fact that our two leads are brothers from the same life but then with the dynamic of the civil war they transform into two completely different beings. Their journey taps into a more personal core than attempts from better known movies, especially as the family edge grants the tale further realism.

At many points it is harrowing but striking, and you cannot tear your eyes away for a moment. As corruption and politics affect Jin-Tae and Jin-seok in different ways, we're presented with two sides of a moral coin, which is extremely brave when considering the source of the material.

What also stands out for Brotherhood are the actions scenes, which are continually impressive as the film shifts forward. The intensity of each battle grips you, and the overall quality of production is much so that the effects crew were invited to do the same for the unique Chinese war story Assembly, bringing together the talents of two countries as titans of world cinema.

Still, with the all of the available war films out there, can this movie stand toe-to-toe with the best of the bunch? It's an enormous task when you consider the calibre of films over decades of movie history. But, with it's incredible success in both Korea and worldwide audiences (breaking records in its home country at the time), paired with its brutal portayal of both sides of the Korean civil war, I'm confident in saying that Brotherhood (Tae Guk Gi) is probably one of the finest war films ever made!

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  1. It was a while ago that I watched this film. It was really impressive as I didn't know what to expect I was pleasantly surprised.

  2. Very true...I've heard that so many times from people. As the film goes on it gets increasingly more impressive. Everyone should see it!