15000 bullets, 3000 extras, 500 Stunt people. 1 Sammy Review
Publisher: Eastern Eye
Tue, 6 September 2005
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In war people get killed, shot, stabbed, crushed, blown up and various pieces of their bodies come off. One of the ways we know about this is because war movies show it. It seems many directors love showing us such things and people then say how important it is that the movie is so realistic in displaying the brutality of war. I suppose that's true to a degree (though, sadly, it has hardly proven to be a very effective deterrent), but how many times does one actually have to see people getting blown to bits in horrific ways in these films before the point is well and truly gotten? For me, I'd say it was about 10 war movies ago.
Just in case I'd forgotten even slightly that war was a terrible thing, here's another one, with exploding heads and missing limbs galore. Brotherhood of War (which is the highest grossing Korean film ever made) certainly does the 'gritty, realistic, violent war scenes' thing very well, perhaps even better than the much lauded (and in my view overrated) Saving Private Ryan. Unfortunately, the rest of the film's story tends to miss the target at various points (which, come to think of it, is also the case with Saving Private Ryan). Actually, I was going to try and write this review and not mention Spielberg's movie, but I just found the comparison too strong to avoid.
You want a plot synopsis? Fine, here is one I've stolen from the Madman/Eastern Eye website: Two brothers live a simple and happy life until younger brother Jin Seok is conscripted to fight in the Korean war. Elder brother Jin Tae also signs up to protect Jin Seok from harm. As the brothers are surrounded by death and destruction on all sides things begin to change and the men both face the horror that confronts them.
The first time I watched Brotherhood of War (or Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo, as it is known in its native Korean. Don't ask me how to pronounce that), I really wanted to like it. It is beautifully shot and the impressive visuals sucked me in, perhaps blinding me to some of the intrinsic flaws of the picture. So, I came out of that first viewing thinking the movie was a very good one.
|Time for the "carefree, jubilant, innocent youngsters flashback sequence" |
But, as I thought about it more, I realised I felt no emotional resonance from it whatsoever. So, I decided to take another look and try to discover why that was. Looking at it again (without the rose coloured glasses the cinematography initially provided), it seemed perfectly obvious why the drama of the story and characters failed to impact me in any powerful or lingering fashion; Brotherhood of War just has an utter and absolute lack of subtlety. Honestly, it is hard to become emotionally attached to these folks when they overact to enormous levels and generally behave like caricatures. There's virtually no grey area about anything in Brotherhood of War; everything goes from black straight to white, or vice versa. Besides, they may be rendered in "realistic" detail, but some of the situations shown are about as believable as Rambo III.
A couple of examples: Jin Tae (Dong-Kun Jan) often kicks more arse than Batman and is seemingly indestructible, despite receiving no actual training. His brother Jin Seok (Bin Won) goes from being an innocent youth (which is established by showing him sucking on a popsicle and acting 5 years old), to a hardened soldier in about 10 minutes. There are sections of the story even more implausible, but they are major plot points, so I'd best not spoil them for you. If this were, say, a fantasy film, or based on a comic book, that kind of thing would be fine with me. But when it is placed in what is apparently meant to be a very serious and genuine setting, the unintentional silliness is jarring. It is rather difficult to care as much as you are being asked (I might even say forced) to, when you're also required to constantly suspend your disbelief.
The other problem I had with Brotherhood of War is that its grandiose music, dialogue and basically the movie in general is rather clichéd. To some extent I suppose that is unavoidable, but this really feels like 'war movie paint by numbers' at times.
Still, there's plenty about this film that is worthy of merit. Writer/director Je Gyu-Kan's story of how much war can alter and corrupt people's minds and spirits is often heavy handed and laboured, but its point remains a good and valid one. If you allow yourself to just follow the melodrama and not dwell on the numerous gaps in logic, it works much more effectively.
|It would probably be tasteless of me to make a joke here. So, I won't. |
As I already mentioned, this is a very attractively (or grotesquely when it is meaning to be) shot movie. There's also no denying that the action scenes are at times highly exhilarating and/or disturbing, though (like everything else in this flick) they do become overdone by the end.
There are quite a few war movies that I love, but in general I guess I'm not the biggest fan of the genre. For those who are really into them, I would definitely say Brotherhood of War is one you'd be happy to add to the collection. I don't think the big war movie fans would have as much of a problem with the issues I mentioned as I did. Therefore, this one would probably work much better for them.
Otherwise (unless you have a weak stomach for gore) Brotherhood of War would make a good rental. The moments in the film that work, in my opinion, are impressive enough to warrant at least one viewing. It is over the top and overwrought, but taken as an operatic tale about the ways war tears people apart both mentally and physically, Brotherhood of War succeeds.
Brotherhood of War is due for release on 28/09/2005. I reviewed the preview version, so I wasn't able to check out the bonus features. The full list of extras planned for the 2 disc special edition DVD is as follows:
"6.25 And Us" - Documentary on the Korean War (25 mins)
The Creation of BROTHERHOOD OF WAR (12 mins) - Director talks about the creation of the film and features interviews with other production crew
Portraying War (15 mins) - Shows the difficulties of portraying the Korean War on film
A Preparation For War (18 mins) - Features the training and preparation for the film
Special Effects & Cinematography (18 mins)
Making of BROTHERHOOD OF WAR (45 mins)
Storyboard Comparison (11 mins)
Teaser Trailer (0.5 mins)
Theatrical Trailer (3 mins)
Highlights Trailer (5 mins) - Features some behind-the-scenes footage
Stills Gallery (15 stills)
Poster Gallery (40 stills)
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Some parts of Brotherhood of War are extremely well done, while other aspects are poor. All together it is worthwhile viewing. For big war movie fans it will likely have greater value.