My Way (aka Mai wei) Blu-ray Review
Directed by Kang Je-Kyu
Written by Kang Je-Kyu and Byung-in Kim
2012, 137 minutes, Region A, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on July 24th, 2012
Dong-gun Jang as Jun-shik Kim
Jo Odagiri as Tatsuo Hasegawa
Bingbing Fan as Shirai
In-kwon Kim as Lee Jong-dae
“Inspired by true events” is a term that is open to interpretation more so than “based on a true story”. James Cameron’s Titanic fits nicely within the category of the former as a fictional tale woven through a historical event. My Way was inspired by a photograph of a Korean soldier captured by the Americans on the beaches of Normandy. He was wearing a German uniform. Director Kang-Je Kyu (Shiri) takes the incident and runs with it, creating a full back story that imagines how circumstances allowed for such an unexpected discovery.
Japan’s 50+ year occupation of Korea is the backdrop for My Way, the story of two men, Jun-shik Kim and Tatsuo Hasegawa, who met as children and instantly formed a competitive relationship, as both are avid runners with Olympic dreams. The opportunity for both to race for a spot on the Olympic team (despite the policy that Koreans cannot participate) results in a riot when Jun-shik is denied his victory. The punishment for participating in the melee finds the Koreans forced into joining the Japanese Imperial Army.
Jun-shik’s troubles are far from over as Tatsuo is now his commanding officer, determined to punish the inferior Koreans by forcing them to join the suicide mission against the Soviet army’s tank brigade. The ensuing battle results in the devastation of the Japanese troops and the survivors being imprisoned in labor camps and conscripted to fight for Russia against the German army. The moment Tatsuo is put in the position of serving an enemy and wearing their uniform into battle he realizes the futility of nationalism. The reluctant bond with Jun-shik grows as the two men continue to cross unbelievable obstacles in hopes of surviving long enough to return home.
Kang-Je Kyu revolutionized the Korean film industry with his game changing masterpiece Tae-Guk-Gi (Brotherhood of War) and while he doesn’t reach the same heights this time around, he manages to impress with several jaw-dropping action sequences that can stand up next to the best titles in the genre. The film is being trumpeted as Korea’s answer to Saving Private Ryan and it is a fair comparison for the level of gut-wrenching intensity of the battle recreations alone. Cinematographer Lee Mo-Gae’s photography is reminiscent of Janusz Kaminski’s work in the Spielberg film, complete with desaturated color schemes and abundant hand-held camera work shot at varying frame rates to place the audience in the immediacy of the action.
The dramatic elements of the script flow easily enough to advance the story from one action set-piece to the next, but there is not a lot of character development along the way. Jun-shik essentially wears the white hat while Tatsuo the black. The Korean is always the inspirational and decent figure while the tyrannical Japanese antagonist is a one-dimensional adversary. Tatsuo is never exactly the villain, but fills the role until the next invading army comes along; His transition from arrogant prick to understanding friend is rushed and awkward and is the clumsiest aspect of the film.
The cast is quite strong, especially the dynamic between lead actors Dong-gun Jang (Tae-Guk-Gi) and Jo-Odagiri (Bright Future), who are equally commanding and do all of the hard work along the way. There is a heavy-handed sense of melodrama that cheats some key moments of the film, but the actors are strong enough to rise above the trappings of the script and maintain sincerity in their performances.
Supporting characters are introduced only to be killed off soon after with a few minor exceptions, including the long-time friend suffering alongside Jun-shik and the other Koreans until they begin to serve the Soviet army. Given the taste of new authority, the friend begins to act just as his Japanese oppressors did before him. This is an easy lesson to learn and is well executed within the story, but unfortunately many other subplots are not given the same level of detail and hinder the pacing of the film.
My Way is an epic tale of hope and loss and the importance of honor, a tough picture to sell to an ever-growing audience of the jaded. What works best is the simplicity of the broad strokes of the plot, contrasting with the dramatic beats playing almost as vignettes until the next big wave of explosions. Kang-je Kyu succeeds in exposing a little-seen side of war through the eyes of the participants forced not only to fight against their will, but to defend the flag of a country that has taken everything from them. This film is definitely worth checking out as it stands tall in the ranks of the World War II sub-genre.
Video and Audio:
The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio with bright colors, natural flesh tones and strong black levels. Battle sequences are equally sharp, but colors are muted as a stylistic choice.
Two lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes and two standard Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo tracks are offered in either Korean or English. Dialogue remains crisp and clear and music selections are rich and make full use of the surrounds. Obviously the war sequences are the highlight to the presentation and this disc features several stand-out moments of intensity that will provide a solid workout to the best sound systems.
If there is one area where Well Go USA comes up short, it is in the supplements. A pretty standard array of featurettes and trailers are available, but there is nothing really thorough to be found.
First up, a generic “making of” piece offers a glimpse at behind-the-scenes footage, but runs only nine minutes. An extended piece documenting the amount of work that went into creating what is billed as the most expensive movie in Korean cinema would have been very welcome.
Next is a brief (six minute) interview with Director Kang Je-Kyu and star Jang Dong-Gun in which they discuss the historical events that inspired the film. There is mention of the documentary A Korean in Nomandy as an influence, but sadly it is not included in this set.
Rounding out the special features is a trio of trailers for My Way presented in HD.
*Note: The screenshots on this page are not a reflection of the Blu-ray image. They were captured using the standard DVD.*