Thanks to the very kind people at Terracotta Film Festival, we were invited to the press screening of ‘My Way’. This film will be the opening film in the Festival, next Thursday 13th April. Don’t miss out, and book your tickets now! It’s a fantastic film! All information can be found here.
Warning – There are still spoilers in this trailer!
Plot (contains spoilers)
‘My Way’ opens in Korea, 1928, during the Japanese occupation. A young boy, Kim Joon Sik, along with his family, works and lives in a Japanese Officer’s residence. When the Officer’s grandson, Tatsuo Hasegawa, comes to live with his Grandfather, a friendly rivalry soon springs up between the two young boys in the form of running. We are shown how the two boys continue their rivalry through running into their teens, with both of them having won and lost races against each other. Both have achieved some fame through their marathon running, and they use any opportunity to showcase their skills. When Tatsuo wins an important race in high school, his Grandfather holds a party in his honour. During the party, Joon Sik’s Father is given a present to hand to Tatsuo’s Grandfather. Upon opening it, a bomb is revealed, and Tatsuo’s Grandfather dies saving the people at the party by placing himself directly over the bomb. Torn up with grief, Tatsuo blames the Korean people and warns Joon Sik that if they should ever cross paths again, he will kill him. Joon Sik’s Father is taken away by the police, and Joon Sik himself, and his Sister, are forced to fend for themselves. Joon Sik’s Father is later released by the police, but is now crippled and a changed man from his time in custody.
Skip a few years, and we find Joon Sik (as an adult played by Jang Dong Gun) who is trying to support his family as a ricksaw driver. Joon Sik picks up a mysterious client, who asks him to prove his speed by taking him to a press conference on the soon-to-be held Olympics. This client turns out to be previous Gold Olympic Korean marathon runner Son Ki Jung, who is going to the press conference to question why Korean people have been banned from running in the Olympic qualifying race. Also at the press conference is Tatsuo (now played by Joe Odagiri), who will be competing in the qualifying race. He states that he will win the race with no problems. We see Tatsuo’s personality has become very hard and now has single minded loyalty for the Emperor. As Joon Sik is also at the press conference, he says that as if the Japanese are so confident in winning, Koreans should be able to enter.
Joon Sik soon learns from Son Ki Jung, that he will be allowed to race in the Olympic qualifier. On the day of the qualifier, a huge crowd gathers to support Tatsuo and Joon Sik. Tatsuo and Joon Sik are pretty level throughout the race, and on the last stretch one of the Japanese runners, as planned, tries to trip Joon Sik. Joon Sik avoids this, and ends up winning the race, to the delight of the Korean supporters. Initially elated, Joon Sik soon grows angry when it’s announced that he is disqualified for trying to trip up the runner that tried to stop him. Tatsuo is announced the winner. Joon Sik, along with a group of Korean supporters get caught up in a riot, and are subsequently arrested. Their punishment is to be conscripted into the Japanese Imperial Army.
Ending up fighting for the Japanese in China, Joon Sik and his Korean friends find life hard not only as they have to fight in a war, but are treated badly by their Japanese superiors. We see that Joon Sik still has a passion for running, and every evening trains in the barracks. A new Colonel comes to take charge after a minor defeat, who turns out to be none other than Tatsuo! Now a brutal and unforgiving man, he works all under him without mercy. When Joon Sik refuses to be part of a suicide team, Tatsuo imprisons him and sentences him to death. With the help of his friends, Joon Sik and co, along with a female Chinese sniper called Shirai (Bingbing Fan), escape.
However, as they’re about to board a boat, Joon Shik sees a mass of Soviet tanks headed for a surprise attack. Unable to leave the rest of his friends behind in the camp to die, he runs back to warn them. On the way, he is saved from an aeroplane attack by “ace shooter Shirai”, but ends up dying herself. Arriving at the barracks too late to give adequate warning, the Imperial Army is overrun. Many of the men try to desert, but Tatsuo shoots those running telling them they fight or die for the Emperor. Caught up in an explosion, Tatsuo and Joon Sik are knocked unconscious.
We next see Tatsuo and Joon Sik have been taken to a Soviet Union P.O.W camp, and are now surrounded by freezing wilderness. Tatsuo, as he was the Colonel, is instructed to stand on his nation’s flag and bow down to the Soviet Union. Tatsuo, still firmly believing in loyalty to the Emperor refuses and his punished. Joon Sik discovers old friends in the camp, but soon finds they’ve been changed by war and the fight for survival. Tensions rise between Tatsuo and Joon Sik, and when forced into a fight to the death by one of the Soviet’s commanders, Tatsuo narrowly escapes being killed by Joon Sik, who at the last moment decides not to kill him. In a place where the warmest areas to be are the huge incinerators which are burning frostbitten bodies constantly, life is terrible and hard. Tatsuo grudgingly come to admire Joon Sik’s conviction; Joon Sik still continues to run every evening. After a riot breaks out, Joon Sik, Tatsuo and other members of the Japanese Army and drafted Koreans are sentenced to death. They are given a second chance when an attack on the Germans is issued after the Soviet Union finds out Germans have declared war. Forced to act as cannon fodder or die, the Japanese and Koreans fall quickly under the Germans’ fire. Tatsuo witnesses a Soviet commander shooting deserters and remembers his actions doing the same when he was colonel. Tatsuo sees the waste of lives that he caused, and realises that retreating is an option. After the battle, Tatsuo is still alive and discovers that Joon Sik is too. Joon Sik changes into a German uniform and tell Tatsuo that he’s crossing the border into Germany to try to find a way home. He tells Tatsuo that he can come if he wants.
The two make their way into Germany, with Joon Sik carrying Tatsuo due to injuries. Making it to an abandoned village, Joon Sik leaves Tatsuo to desperately find medical supplies. A passing German regiment sees Joon Sik, who pleads for medical equipment from them. Not understanding him and thinking he’s a drafted deserter, they take them with him. Tatsuo is left near death, with the Germans searching the village.
Three years passes, and we see that Tatsuo is part of the German army. In a regiment full of other foreign draftees, he is considering making a run for it with several other soldiers. Arriving at Normandy, Tatsuo must pass time in the German army until the opportune time to escape arrives. Still searching for Joon Sik, Tatsuo spots a lone soldier running on the beach. It’s Joon Sik! As it turns out, Joon Sik was also serving with the German Army. Tatsuo discovers Joon Sik has lost his hearing. When fighting the last battle for the Soviet Union, he pushed Tatsuo away from a grenade, and as it exploded so closely, it affected his hearing. Tatsuo now plans both of their escapes, but on the morning of the planned escape, the German barracks are attacked by the Allied Forces. The last battle for Tatsuo and Joon Sik takes place as they both try to escape the area. Will they be able to make it back home together?
My Way’, with a budget of around ₩28billion, is the most expensive Korean film made to date, and you feel every part of it! This film is so expansive, being set in over five countries and containing around five languages, the film’s journey is a huge one that will take you along for the ride. The visuals in this film are stunning; you’re in the desolate and hopeless Soviet P.O.W camp one moment, then the seemingly tranquil beaches of Normady the next. It’s not only the settings that are fantastic, the war scenes themselves are amazing. You’ll be in awe of how they look, but at the same time will make you realise the true horror of war, and leave you thinking back to grandparents, or people you’ve known, that were actually in the wars. The war scenes have some shocking visuals in them, but you can’t help but be impressed at the way they’re shot. There are many moments in the film where the setting is used to demonstrate the effects of war and being involved in it; the Soviet P.O.W camp was one such setting. The incinerators, where bodies were being burned 24 hours a day to keep fires going, were a harrowing thing to look at. While wheelbarrows of ashen skeletons were going out of the incinerator area, characters in the film used the place as an area to talk and drink as it was the warmest place in the camp. The juxtaposition of trying to carry on habits from their old lives, like drinking, next to such stark reminders of the war was startling.
The pace of the film is fast and constant. There isn’t really one point in the film where you feel you have time to sit back and relax for a moment. You’re constantly being transported from one place or big event to the next. As the film is long, this constant pacing works well, as you don’t notice the time passing by; you’re always engrossed in the film’s action, and if you weren’t, the you may start to feel how long it is. I can see how some people may find the pace quite exhausting. The plot isn’t light and happy, and for those who prefer some time to reflect on hard hitting scenes in a film, there isn’t any time for them to reflect as the next tense moment is always just around the corner.
The acting and characters in the film were superb. The two main actors, Joe Odagiri and Jang Dong Gun did an amazing job tracking their characters’ stories. Tatsuo goes from a slightly megalomaniac man, obsessed with the notion that a retreat in battle was tantamount to betraying the Emperor, to someone that realises that the individual does count and that in order to survive, sometimes you must go against what you may have believed in. Joon Sik throughout the film shows his unwavering conviction that he will be a marathon runner. Perhaps his focus on this is how he copes with the situations he finds himself in, as sometimes you do wonder how he manages to keep such cool head about himself when such atrocities are happening around him. I found the relationship between the two main characters to watch very engaging. Even though when Tatsuo is in the position of Colonel, you can still see that he has a fascination with Joon Sik’s ideals. He pushes Joon Sik to see how far he will stick to his values. Joon Sik’s commitment to helping his friends and belief that each person should have free will slowly affects Tatsuo. Especially when Tatsuo himself is subjected to treatments that he once gave out does he see how wrong his actions have been.
There were a few characters which I felt were slightly out of place however. When we were first introduced to the female sniper character, Shirai, I couldn’t help but think of “3 Seconds” from ‘The Front Line’. Her involvement in the film could have been completely done away with and the plot wouldn’t have been affected in any significant way (her saving Joon Sik could have easily been changed). Dare I say it, I was quite relieved when she died, as I was dreading some sort of romantic involvement with Joon Sik. Jong Dae (Kim In Kwon) was a character who I wasn’t sure about in the beginning too. At the start of the film, he seemed like the generic comedy-relief side kick character that could have been got rid of easily. However, his reappearance at the Soviet P.O.W camp, and the change in his character, really helped to show how war changes people and what people will do to survive.
This is an epic war film than spans countries and time. Those that are not war film fans will be pleased to know that there is far more to this film than just mindless shooting and loud noises. The story and the characters in it will keep you at the edge of your seats. Obviously, as most of the film is set during war time, there are some pretty horrible scenes, but the connection between the characters and the interest in wanting to know what happens to them will keep those who may not be a war film fans interested. I thought this was an amazing film, the scale of it was so huge and the story so interesting that I would happily see it again any day. It was epic in every sense of the word.
I give this film….