My Way's grandiosity is ultimately satisfying
Starring Jang Dong-Gun and Jô Odagiri. In Korean, Japanese, Russian, and German with English subtitles. Rating unavailable.
Frank Sinatra is AWOL, although My Way (a phonetic translation of the Korean title) does transport us back to the Second World War. And viewers are sure to feel exhausted, if not exactly nostalgic, after 140 minutes of nonstop action in the most expensive South Korean film ever made. It’s bombastic, self-important, gruesome, cliché-ridden, and insanely ambitious, but the grandiosity itself is ultimately satisfying.
Directed and cowritten by Kang Je-Kyu, whose previous feature was Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (set during the Korean conflict), this continues Kang’s fixation on battle at the expanse of all other cinematic niceties. His scope is truly Spielbergian, even if it can be gruelling to cross two continents from end to end (the orchestral score alone is enough to send you scrambling for your helmet).
The choice to centre the decade-long story on two marathon runners is apt, since that helps one believe the incredible endurance of a Korean peasant-turned-runner (Tae Guk Gi’s Jang Dong-Gun, who looks like a younger Chow Yun-Fat) and an arrogant Japanese aristocrat (Adrift in Tokyo’s Jô Odagiri). They start competing as kids, and the fellow from Nippon must survive three battlefronts and a gulag (shot largely in Latvia) with his lifelong rival to gain proper respect for Korean integrity.
The director is commenting on the long-troubled relationship between these two key Asian cultures, and he even throws in a hot Chinese sniper (Fan Bingbing) to complicate things. But mostly he’s about the giant set pieces that appear after Koreans are conscripted into the Japanese army, captured by the Soviets, sent to Siberia, and shipped off to fight Germans, who, in turn, capture our fleet-footed protagonists and draft them just in time to resist invading Allies at Normandy. Shades of grey are more visible in Wehrmacht uniforms than in the script, but Kang does make it clear that cannon fodder comes in all colours.
Watch the trailer for My Way.