My Way (2011) is a South Korean war movie inspired by true events.
Synopsis (summarized from here): 1928, Gyeong-seong (modern-day Seoul), Korea. Young Kim Jun-shik, his father, and sister work on the farm of the Hasegawa family in Japanese-occupied Korea. Both Jun-shik and Tatsuo Hasegawa are interested in running and by the time they are teenagers, are fierce competitors.
Tatsuo's grandfather is killed in a bomb attack by a Korean terrorist and subsequently a Korean runner, Son Gi-jeong, wins a marathon race against Japanese competitors, further inflaming Korean-Japanese tensions.
May 1938 - Jun-shik (Jang Dong-gun) is working as a rickshaw runner as Koreans are banned from taking part in sports events and Tatsuo (Joe Odagiri), now a fierce Japanese nationalist, has sworn that a Korean will never again win a race. Though he has been accepted by a medical college in Berlin, Tatsuo decides to stay in Korea to run in the All Japan Trials for the marathon. Son Gi-jeong secretly backs Jun-shik and the latter wins the race, though Tatsuo is awarded the medal when Jun-shik is disqualified for allegedly cheating. Following a riot by Korean spectators, Jun-shik is among those - including his friend Lee Jong-dae (Kim In-gwon) - who are forcibly drafted into the Japanese army.
July 1939 - Jun-shik, along with 100 other Koreans, are in a battle at Nomonhan, on the Mongolian border, where a Chinese sniper, Shirai (Fan Bingbing), avenging the death of her family at the hands of the Japanese, is captured and tortured. Tatsuo, now a colonel, arrives and takes over command. After refusing to join a suicide squad organised by Tatsuo to fight the Soviets, Jun-shik is imprisoned with Shirai but escapes with her, Jong-dae, and others to the River Khalkhin, where Shirai dies after shooting down a Soviet plane. Jun-shik tries to warn the Japanese forces that a large-scale Soviet tank attack is coming but in the ensuing battle Tatsuo refuses to order a retreat.
February 1940 - Jun-shik and Tatsuo end up in Kungursk POW camp, north of Perm, in the Soviet Union, where both Koreans and Japanese are incarcerated together. Under the name of Anton, Jong-dae has become a work-unit leader and helps his Korean friends, while Tatsuo is humiliated and almost killed by Jun-shik in a fight. When news comes that Germany has declared war on the Soviet Union, Jun-shik and Tatsuo are among those forcibly drafted into the Soviet army.
December 1941 - Following a bloody battle against the German army at Hedosk, Jun-shik and Tatsuo set out on a journey westwards that will find them on the beaches of Normandy, France, just prior to the D-Day Allied invasion.
That's a very long and detailed synopsis. In simple words, this 141-minute movie is about a Korean man and a Japanese man who met as enemies, but fate brought them together as they experience humanity that transcends borders and nationalities.
My Way is undeniably, an impressive South Korean production.
There are a few contributing factors:
- One, excellent visual effects.
- Two, lavish cross-border landscapes - Asia, Russia, Europe (Normandy in France).
- Three, the scale of war sequences is very impressive, graphical, and super bloody.
- Four, there is a solid storyline no matter how absurd and unlikely it is. Some historical facts are a bit off but most of us are not historians, so it doesn't really matter.
- Five, Jang Dong-gun and Joe Odagiri share a very good on-screen chemistry. This might sound weird, but thank goodness the level of bromance is still acceptable. There's actually more emphasis on brotherhood, patriotisme, and sacrificial acts.
- Six, the ending is bittersweet.
More information: Here's very good interview article with the director, Kang Je-Kyu.
If war is your thing, you gotta add this movie to your must-watch list.