"Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War" is a powerful drama about the Korean war, and was a large box office success in that country. The picture follows the story of two brothers: Jin-tae (Jang Dong-gun) and Jin-Seok (Won Bin), who are basically drafted to fight in the Korean war.
The film has often been compared to "Saving Private Ryan", and the picture does follow that film in slightly similar structural ways (a funeral at the beginning and end, although this time, there's an archaeological dig also going on, and that fuels the start of the picture in an interesting way) and stylistic ways (some of the cinematography), but I never felt at all that the picture was copying from "Ryan". There are some cliches here, but I didn't feel the film intended strong similarities to "Ryan" or other war films. While this is a movie that cost $12.8 million US, it looks like (at least) an $80-100m film. Hollywood should look at this production: I've seen several Hollywood blockbusters in the last year that didn't look like they should cost close to what they did, yet here's a huge, epic war drama/action picture that looks like it cost 7 or 8 times what it did.
As the film opens, the two brothers seem to have a fine life: one works as a shoeshiner and is planning marriage, while the other is intelligent and shows real promise. The early scenes do a magnificent job of developing the characters and getting us to care about the brothers - the performances by the two leads are just magnificent. These early moments of the film have a grace about them that's engaging, as well. Then, the war quickly begins and the brothers find themselves ripped away from their peaceful existence, thrust into battle with no preparation. While the older brother vows to protect his younger sibling, both men will find themselves changed considerably by their horrific and and terrifying experiences in battle, especially Jin-tae.
The subtle nature of the early moments of the film is, of course, lost when the battle scenes start up. This is an utterly brutal picture, with a lot of gore (this is definitely a film that shows the horrors of war.) Yet, I really felt for not only the main, but the supporting characters. Director Kang Je-gyu ("Shiri") may have made a war epic with what feels like near-constant battle scenes, but the characters and story aren't forgotten about. The film also looks at both sides of the battle.
Again, the picture is pretty relentless, and some may begin to become exhausted by the graphic battle scenes. What kept me interested was both the filmmaking and the acting. The acting really impressed me, as not only were the two leads utterly terrific, but the supporting cast was also superb across the board. I kept saying to myself during the film, "Wow, the acting is so good, so intense and emotional." In terms of technical merits, this is an epic, remarkable production, with stellar cinematography, production design and direction. There's a few cliches and the film could have used another rest stop or two to break up the battles slightly, but aside from that, this is a remarkable film.
VIDEO: "The Brotherhood of War" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image quality is definitely superb, as this is one of the finer transfers I've seen from the studio recently. Sharpness and detail are consistently excellent, as defnition was consistent and small object detail was strong.
The picture looked almost entirely pristine, aside from a couple of slight moments of edge enhancement, which were hardly noticable. Aside from that, there were no flaws encountered - the picture seemed free of pixelation, print flaws and other issues. The mostly subdued color palette looked accurately rendered, as well.
SOUND: "The Brotherhood of War" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (Korean, w/English subtitles). While I can't say that I really agreed (or thought fair) the comparisons with this film to "Saving Private Ryan", I will compare the two when it comes to sound. While "Tae Guk Gi" does have a perfectly fine sound mix, it does not come close to Gary Rydstrom's utterly aggressive, enveloping sound design for "Ryan", or Claude Letessier's work for "The Thin Red Line". However, the sound design for "Brotherhood" is still very fine, with most of the audio across the front speakers and some ambience and sound effects coming from the surrounds. Audio quality was fine, with clear dialogue and well-recorded effects.
EXTRAS: The special features are found on the second disc of this 2-DVD set. The second disc includes the featurettes: "6.25 and Us" (interviews with war veterans and historians), "Creation" (pre-production and planning of the film), "War Project" (the obstacles of presenting the war on film), "Preparing for Tae Guk Gi" (preparation and training), "Making History" (a "making of") and "People Behind The Camera" (cinematography and effects). We also get a photo montage, multi-angle storyboard comparison and trailers for other Columbia/Tristar titles.
Final Thoughts: "Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War" is a powerful and haunting war epic that boasts exceptional performances. I'm really surprised that it didn't get at least an Oscar nomination. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition provides fantastic audio/video quality and some good supplemental feature. This is definitely not a film for those who can't take gore, but those who do see it will find a very powerful and memorable war drama.
The Film *** 1/2