Director: Kang Je-gyu
Runtime: 137 minutes
One would be hard pressed to argue that My Way is anything but an epic film. The size and scope of the story is daunting, but just because something is long and dense doesn’t mean it is also engaging. Erratic quick cuts wither what is a fairly by-the-numbers war movie that has some pointed but interesting things to say. Set in Seoul in 1938, the film follows the journey of two Japanese and Korean rivals who eventually fight in the war together against China. They survive battle after battle and through their travels discover a bond that is stronger than hate: getting home. Over 137 minutes we see a story told on a grand canvas that ends up in remarkable places.
The film begins with the story of a rich Japanese boy named Tatsuo Hasegawa (Joe Odagiri) and his family who goes to live with his grandpa in modern day Korea. There he meets Kim Joon-sik (Jang Dong-gun) and the two quickly form a friendly rivalry in running marathons. They trade wins back and forth until a murder sparks a new change in Tatsuo’s outlook on the Koreans. There is growing hate for the Koreans by the Japanese and by the time it boils over war with China is upon them. Joon-sik and his friend Lee Jong-dae (In-kwon Kim) end up fighting for the Japanese and that’s where their paths again cross with Tatsuo, a military leader. How far the three travel will astound and amaze you, especially considering the film is based on a true life story.
How much of that story is true is always in the back of one’s mind, but the film rarely goes too over-the-top to achieve drama. Instead, most of the intensity during the action sequences are the result of numerous quick cuts that keep you disorientated and struggling to find who is winning or losing. Considering how long some of the battles last this becomes a tiresome chore and even during a foot race in the middle of the film we see the dramatic rapid perspective changes—during a foot race. Director Kang Je-gyu’s intentions are clear: add intensity by never letting the audience orientate themselves. Yet, I have seen countless other films that manage to capture intensity with a steady dose from a single perspective. In fact, few things in cinema are as impactful as a single long shot.
Despite the camerawork, the money spent on the film is clear. The scenery varies and it becomes obvious they aren’t shooting on a backlot in a city. Even the extras manage to add scope and scale to the film’s overall feel. While the Hollywood machine can turn out epic after epic, you don’t often see war films done on this size outside of a U.S. production.
As for the story, dramatic shifts in central characters aren’t unheard of. However, secondary characters rarely get the opportunity to have a character arch, yet Jong-dae goes through a shift that is heartbreaking. It captures so much without directly saying anything. Another interesting side is to see things from the Korean perspective and how violent and vicious the Japanese come off. Sure, Tatsuo goes through his own changes, but the broad strokes of the brush don’t paint a pretty picture of the Japanese during that time.
My Way has a dark, brooding story that ends in redemption set on a titanic backdrop filled with numerous battles that help pull the story along. While the film feels every bit of its 137 minute runtime, leaving one exhausted at the end, I was continually invested in the characters. Most of it doesn’t surprise, but the few scenes that do are enough to remember. If you can see past the disorientating camerawork, My Way has a worthy story to tell.
My Way played at the Dallas International Film Festival and is now in limited release.
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