My Way: Berlin Film Review

Courtesy of CJ Entertainment
Bombastic WWII drama blows itself to bits.

Korean director Kang Je-kyu’s big-budgeted WWII drama is a tale about two rival marathon runners caught in a continent-hopping battle of blood, guts and bad dialogue.

“Regrets…I’ve had a few” may be the reaction of many a viewer after sitting through the 142-minute Korean bombast, My Way (Mai-wei). So bloated that it’s forever on the verge of bursting – a sentiment reflected by the film’s overindulgence in ear-splitting pyrotechnics – Kang Je-kyu’s big-budgeted WWII melodrama offers up a kitschy, overtly violent tale about two rival marathon runners caught in a continent-hopping battle of blood, guts and bad dialogue.

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Billed as the most expensive local production in history (per press notes the budget was $25M), the film’s pre-Christmas local release has raked in close to $15M thus far. Strong overseas sales, including to Well Go in the U.S. and Universal International in several territories, should help this Berlinale Panorama premiere reach selected offshore viewers, though most of them will likely find their way to My Way on DVD.

Writer-director Kang is well known at home for his two previous features, 2004’s Korean War epic Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (one of the highest grossing local film to date) and 1999’s North-South spy romance, Shiri. Surely, the filmmaker’s preachy and highly nationalist storytelling must hold a certain sway with domestic fans, because it’s otherwise hard to see how non-flag waving audiences could fully digest this overlong and overstuffed historical concoction.

Kicking off with a dizzying first reel that introduces the main characters, Japanese pretty boy, Tatsuo (Joe Odagiri), and local kid, Jun-shik (Jang Dong-gun), the script (co-written by Kang, Byung-in and Na hyun) immediately puts them on opposite sides of Japan’s occupation of Korea, which officially began in 1910 and continued through the end of the Second World War. Both Tatsuo and Jun-shik are talented long distance runners, and the first of the film’s many races reveals to what extent their competitiveness is less fueled by personal rivalry than by the ongoing conflict between their two homelands.

As if such an idea weren’t immediately clear to the viewer, Kang spends the next two hours literally ramming it into one’s head with all types of heavy artillery – not to mention plenty of sticks, swords and rifle butts – as the two warring soldiers find themselves caught on the battlefield first in Mongolia, then in Siberia, and finally on Omaha Beach during the Allied invasion of Normandy. Far-fetched as it sounds, the duo’s bloody vendetta shadows the long war until they’ve been beaten, shot at and blown up more times than Itchy and Scratchy, though My Way lacks any sort of distance or irony about what’s being depicted on screen.

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Highlighted by three massive skirmishes which apparently required an unprecedented international arsenal of vehicles, personnel, uniforms and fake bullets, the film offers up such a sheer onslaught of guns & ammo that the characters themselves tend to appear as mere cannon fodder. The fact that such scenes are often shot (by d.p. Lee Mo-gae) with a dizzying handheld camera, chopped together so quickly (by editor Park Gok-ji) that it’s hard to tell who’s who, and then overwhelmed by a sugary score (from composer Lee Dong-jun) makes them all the more tiring to sit through.

Brawny performances by Jang (The Coast Guard) and Odagiri (Air Doll) are overshadowed by storytelling that’s either predictable or patriotic (the Koreans are rarely shown to be in the wrong here), though this may also be one of the first movies in history where the Nazis seem to be the most civil people depicted on screen.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama)
Production companies: Directors Production
Cast: Jang Dong-gun, Joe Odagiri, Fan Bingbing, Kim In-kwon, Kim Hie-won, Oh Tae-kung, Kwak Jung-uk
Director: Kang Je-kyu
Screenwriters: Kang Je-kyu, Kim Byung-in, Na hyun
Producers: Kang Je-kyu, Kim Yong-hwa
Executive producers: Miky Lee, So Jin-woo
Director of photography: Lee Mo-gae
Production designer: Joh Geun-hyun
Music: Lee Dong-jun
Costume designer: Kim Jung-won
Special fx supervisor: Jung Do-ahn
Editor: Park Gok-ji
Sales Agent: CJ Entertainment
No rating, 142 minutes