Monday, September 10, 2007

Korea: Brotherhood of War Review

Speaking of quagmires (in Iraq), most people forget we (United States citizens) are still bogged down in Korea. We've been in that bog since 1946. Even though South Korea is one of the richest nations in the world and has taken many jobs away from American workers, we still pay a small fortune in taxes each year to keep American troops stationed there. How did this come about, and is change possible?

Most Americans have seen films set in the Korean War. U.S. Soldiers are the good guys, communist North Koreans or Chinese are the bad guys. Some films of this genre are Pork Chop Hill, The Bridge at Toko Ri, Retreat Hell, Men in War and Mash. The historical context is simple: bad people (communists) attacked good people (South Koreans) and the U.S. cavalry rode in to the rescue, with much heroic sacrifice.

I have been studying Korean history lately, and find it fascinating. The Korean film industry makes first class films these days, and one of the best I have seen so far is Brotherhood of War (Tae Guk Gi). We see the war through the eyes of two brothers in South Korea who are "drafted" when the war breaks out (they are captured and forced to fight the North Koreans). They are apolitical; their concerns were about the economic survival of their family. As they fight and fellow soldiers are blown to bits around them (beware, it is hyper-real, along the line of Private Ryan) the older brother becomes a vehement anti-communist. The younger brother toughens up into a good soldier, but loses it after watching his squad murder POWs in cold blood.

What is only slightly unbelievable is that such animosity between the north and south Koreans would have existed in 1950, only four years after an occupation by allies Russia and the U.S. ended a five-decade long occupation by Japan. In 1945 most Koreans were united in opposing the Japanese and believing that if Japan lost the war Korea would be "free at last." The brutal occupation and political suppression (the U.S. had communists, socialists, nationalists, and anarchists suppressed in the south; the Russians promoted communists, who quickly put the screws on everyone else in the north) of 1946 probably pleased very few Koreans.

I thought the war was going to be just another propaganda film, glorifying the South and denouncing the North, but it grew more complex as the plot unravelled. By the end it was hard to sympathise with anyone but the dead.

The acting was top-notch, as was the directing. The pace good and I had only occasional difficulty keeping track of the characters. Brotherhood of War can be watched by war movie enthusiasts, but mostly it illustrates the old adage that war is hell.

I think Korea could be reunited. I believe North Korea has no foreign troops helping it. South Korea is a rich country. It should defend itself until reunification.

For more information on Korea see my Korea page.

For more of my film reviews see my Film page.

1 comment:

  1. Great review!
    I look forwards to reading your other pages and the other blog entries here.