Friday, January 11, 2013

"My Way", WWII from the Korean Point of View


I had a chance to check out the Korean WWII film "My Way" the other week when it popped up on Netflix streaming. Like all wargamers I'm a sucker for war movies, and I'm more than happy to branch out to non-English movies. "Downfall" is fantastic, and Kurosawa's samurai films are classics, but "My Way" was the first Korean historical piece I'd seen. My thoughts after the jump.

Here's the trailer that doesn't give too much away, but you're not going to watch this flick for plot twists and turns anyway. You're a wargamer so you're going to be counting the rivets on the tanks or trying to figure out what sort of leadership rating you'd give to each of the Japanese officers:

 

"My Way" starts off strongly, introducing our main characters as children: Hasegawa Tatsuo, the grandson of an occupying Japanese general and Kim Jun-shik, the son of the Korean servants to the Hasegawa family. Both boys enjoy running, their primary school foot races giving way to competitive marathons and culminating in a rivalry for a spot on the Japanese Olympic team. Europe gets a lot of attention in World War II flicks, but I found the pre-war exploration of the two character's growing adversarial relationship and the cultural tensions between the Koreans and Japanese quite interesting.



Our hero gets involved in a riot that sees him and a number of his Korean comrades arrested and drafted into the Imperial Japanese army as punishment. Before you can say "a training montage usually has more than one shot" we're at the front lines with our band of Korean soldiers trying to survive the horrors of war as well as their sadistic Japanese overseers.

All because he didn't fill out his TPS report...

Over the remainder of the film this band gets involved in a number of battles — or defeats, rather — as they are constantly captured and pressed into service to fight for their latest set of captors. The battles are fairly well done, with a mix of combatants you rarely see on film (Soviet BT- 7 tanks vs. Japanese infantry charge for example), are suitably brutal and have a decent (though not complete) amount of historical accuracy.

Check out that weird cylinder turret on the tank. BT-7, right?

In some cases the battles feel like nothing more than a mad lemming-like rush into overwhelming enemy firepower, but they're still gripping enough to be worth watching. With each defeat comes an obligatory death scene though, and here's where the film broke down for me. These death scenes are played very melodramatically, almost like parodies of "Oscar bait" death acting. One or two would have been fine, but when one of Kim's allies gets three (THREE!) death scenes after charging a German machine gun position my eye-rolling became too much to bear. Like a villain in a bad horror movie, just when you think he's dead he pops back up, lashing out with more drama soaked monologue-ing.

"No, your friend is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead."

Get to the Good Stuff

As a wargamer, you'll likely be looking at the film from a different perspective than most audiences. The annoying melodrama I mentioned can be overlooked if the film gets the battles right. Here's what you get in "My Way":
  • Japanese unit under sniper attack in Mongolia. Interesting skirmish scenario fodder. 
  • Japanese infantry charge against Soviet attack using BT-7 tanks. My favorite battle of the movie. 
  • Soviet infantry charge against German positions in an battle scarred urban landscape. There's a strange looking German tank involved, but shots were too quick for me to make it out. 
  • D-Day, but from the German perspective. Pretty historically inaccurate, but interesting to see the battle from the entrenched German perspective.
Other than the increasing levels of melodrama and the historical inaccuracies (check out the airborne troops dropping onto the beaches of Normandy under a clear blue morning sky!), I still think "My Way" is worth watching. The battles are engaging, the non-Western perspective on the war in novel, and the character development over the first half of the film are all worth your time. Just have some figures to paint once the battle dies down and the actors get around to dying dramatically.


5 comments:

  1. I'd never heard of this, but now I'm going to have to check it out, thanks!

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    1. Glad I could bring it to your attention! :)

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  2. Good find, I will get a copy. I just discovered a recent Japanese war film called "Oba The Last Samurai" The Japanese view on the defence of Saipan. Great movie.

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    1. Oh nice! I hadn't heard of that one. Putting it on my list. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  3. It sounds fascinating. Thanks for noting it. It is culturally refreshing, even startling, to see war films from such a different viewpoint. I enjoyed Letters From Iwo Jima even if, at times, it seemed like a handful of primitively armed Japanese were minding their own business until a gazillion Americans came over the horizon and blasted them into pieces.

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