Monday, May 14, 2012

Losing "My Way" in World War II

Since 'Saving Private Ryan,' some of the best war movies to come out have been from South Korea, of all places.  Boasting big budgets (by Korean standards anyway), great CGI and high production values, movies such as 'Taegukgi:Brotherhood of War' and 'The Front Line' are loosening Hollywood's grip on war movies.  It is thus with great anticipation that I went to see South Korea's latest ambitious offering, the WWII-themed 'My Way.'

'My Way' is the story of two erstwhile friends who were swept into the maelstrom of war in 1939.  One, a Korean peasant named Kim Jun-Sik, was impressed into the service of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) against his will.  The other, a Japanese aristocrat named Tatsuo Hasegawa, volunteered out of patriotism and a sense of duty.  Althogh the two were childhood friends, an unfortunate incident which resulted in the death of Tatsuo's beloved grandfather at a party led to a bitter rift which was further exacerbated by their competitiveness in the Olympic sport of marathon running.  Alas, when our two protagonists cross paths again at Nomonhan a year later it was under anything but ideal circumstances.

Tatsuo, now the youngest colonel (his rise must have been quite meteoric) in the IJA, had relieved the disgraced colonel who retreated against massed Soviet tanks rather than making suicidal charges and ordered his seppuku.  He soon found himself fighting for his very survival when his own well laid plans were thwarted by yet another well-timed massed Soviet armored attack, and ended up a prisoner-of-war of the Soviets along with Kim.  After serving some time in the frozen Siberian gulag, Germany invaded Russia in 1941 and they were given the choice of fighting for the Rodina against the invading Nazis or facing summary execution, so the former it is.  And guess what?  Once again, the side he's fighting on had no tanks and less firepower than the enemy!  Oh, why must our poor boys always end up with the short end of the stick when it comes to battles?

Whatever misfortune befell Tatsuo and Kim, however, were more than made up for the fact that they were the only two survivors in the suicidal charge against entrenched German defenders (so who said your 'ying' doesn't balance my 'yang?), even though Tatsuo was gravely wounded while fighting for the now tankless Soviets.  Soon afterward, they were captured by the invading Germans and became separated.  Flash forward three years later and voila!, Tatsuo is in German feldgrau preparing the defense of Normandy against the pending D-Day invasion.  And lo and behold, he saw his buddy Kim running along the beach!  Whaaaaaat???!!!  Supposedly this movie is based on a true story, but come on!  Fact can be stranger than fiction, no?

I must admit, the CGI battle scenes in 'My Way' are first-rate and spectacular, though it feels like I'm playing 'Medal of Honor:Allied Assault' or 'Call of Duty' on the Playstation at times.  The final battle scene at Normandy is truly something to behold, even if it wasn't quite the way it actually happened.  But then I had to ask myself: "Does this excuse the movie from having a semblance of a coherent and believable plot?"  This movie is little more than a series of battle scenes tied together with the flimsiest of storytelling, and is also overbloated with melodrama and sappiness in typical Korean fashion.  But other than the laughable plotlines, what really ruined it for me is the high 'implausibility factor.'  There is one scene in which a Chinese female sniper shot down a strafing Russian fighter plane with a single well aimed shot at a critical point on the plane.  This is just one of many unlikely coincidences and happenstances that stretched my belief beyond the breaking point and prevented me giving this movie a 'thumbs up.'  It may be 'inspired by true events,' but that doesn't mean director Kang Je-gyu (Taegukgi:Brotherhood of War) didn't play very fast and loose with the facts (and believe it or not, he was going to give the movie the narrow and unimaginative name 'D-Day').  Sorry, but all I can give 'My Way' is:

6 out of 10


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