Je-kyu Kang’s My Way (Mai Wei, 2011) is expansive, flamboyant and the more-than-suitable ‘event’ film selected to kick off this year’s 2012 Terracotta Far East Film Festival. Currently standing as the most expensive South Korean production to date, Kang’s feature is markedly reminiscent of a number of over-the-top American war epics through its extravagant exaggeration of every moment, in almost every scene.
My Way often falls prey to the same simple mistake of American productions – it overlooks the quiet and mundane monotony of everyday life – even in times of war. It ignores the silence, the solitary confinement of the suffering soul, the agony of dreams crushed under the weight of conflict, instead preferring a chewed-down, pre-processed story, told in a straightforward – albeit, at times majestic – way.
The Korean Jun-shik (Dong-gun Jang) and his rival Tatsuo Hasegawa (Jô Odagiri) from Japan meet during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Both are promising marathon runners and have a dream to participate in the Tokyo Olympics, but, when war breaks out, they are forced to enlist in the Japanese army. The two men gradually manage to find common ground through the battlefield action of WWII from the shores of Japan to Siberia, Germany and finally, the Battle of Normandy.
At its centre is a powerful tale about the resilience of the human spirit and the power of dreams. This is violence made beautiful, where the journey of hope overcomes the hardships of war. In contrast to the grand and explosive battle scenes, where bullets rip out flesh and the bombast of violence deafens, there is the miniature, almost invisible spark of perseverance. This is the flame beyond the horizon – the only thing standing between the human soul and its untimely death.
Much like the 2006 Korean war epic The Front Line, My Way is not solely concerned with war itself. Kang’s film is the story of two men with a shared dream, their rivalry and their friendship, their hardships, sorrows and regrets, the Korean Jun-shik and the Japanese Tatsuo are in eternal need for each other – to excel, to grow, to survive.
After a seven-year hiatus, Kang has undoubtedly returning with a bang; an explosive, extravagant, exaggerated grandness. By foregrounding the spectacle of the Second World War, the subtexts of war is not there to be commented on. It is instead there to set the scene for a much smaller story, intricately woven with tiny fibres amidst the loud explosive statements – the story of a personal journey to freedom; of the infinite power and strength that only the human spirit can endure amidst a hopeless scenario. Ultimately, My Way is a fine film for those who can stomach it.
For more info on the Terracotta Far East Film Festival 2012, visit terracottafestival.com.