Did I like Je-kyu Kang's My Way (Mai Wei; 2011) as much as his Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (2004)? Not as much. But I was still very impressed.
I feel fortunate to have seen the film at LA's CGV cinemas. These Korean cinemas, recently built, are owned by CJ Entertainment, the producers of My Way and some of Korea's biggest movies. As cinemas go, these are the cat's meow. Incredible digital presentation. Ear-bending accoustics. Great seats. A far cry from the last Asian-focused cinema I sat in (Melbourne's Chinatown Cinema), that's for sure. Situated in Koreatown (a mile and a bit off the 10 freeway), the cinema (there are four screens) is also screening Nameless Gangster and Helpless, both worthy efforts -- and very recent releases in Korea. Some weeks see popular Hollywood releases filling the screens also.
In the US and elsewhere, My Way has been butchered by critics for its alleged excesses. Having seen it, this criticism seems undeserved. The film is big and loud and glossy. The dramatic situations are ultra-dramatic and ultra-emotional. Like any film, it manipulates your feelings and runs you through a gamut of emotions. Is it excessive? No. Is it violent? Yes. In fact, it feels somewhat like an old John Woo film with more money and resources. A Bullet In The Head with a little less darkness. Beginning well prior to WW2, the story involves two privileged athletes, a Korean and a Japanese, who find themselves reluctantly fighting side-by-side in several of WW2's bloody arenas. Like Tae Guk Gi, it is driven by themes of patriotism, xenophobia, and brotherly conflict. As I'm reluctant to give the movie's many surprises away, I must mention that there's much to "enjoy" and marvel at as our hero, Jun-shik Kim (Dong-gun Jang, who was so good in Tae Guk Gi) finds himself pressed into service for the Soviets, the Japanese, and the Nazis.
How historically accurate the whole shebang actually is is not of immense interest to me. I was sucked into the film's violent maelstrom and engaged by its relentless drama. There are several extraordinary set pieces, and a generous serving of true cinematic poetry.
Said to be the mostly costly Korean movie ever made, it is certainly a major achievement. And though it doesn't rise to the level of Tae Guk Gi's command of all cinema's disciplines, it delivers old-fashioned entertainment on a scale that never erupts into excess.
If you can make it to CJ's new cinemas in LA, you're in for a treat.