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Archive for the ‘War’ Category

My Way (2011)

My Way poster

During the Japanese occupation of Korea, young Jin Suk and his family begin working for a Japanese farmer. The farmer has a son the same age as Jin Suk by the name of Tatsuo. The two boys share a love of marathon running and soon become bitter rivals as they grow up which culminates in Jin Suk being wrongly disqualified from a qualifying race to appear at the Tokyo Olympics after he has won. Tatsuo is named the winner instead. This act of injustice angers the Korean crowd who start a riot which is quelled by the Japanese soldiers. Jun Sik and the men of the riot are imprisoned and then conscripted into the Japanese army at the start of WWII to fight the Russians. He finds out that the man in charge of his unit is none other than Tatsuo. When the Soviet army attack his unit, he and Tatsuo are captured by them. On arriving at a labour camp, Jun Sik finds an old friend is in charge of them but he finds that his friend has changed for the worse when he betrays a fellow Korean who is then shot. Jun Sik and Tatsuo manage to escape from the Russians but find themselves drafted into the German army just as the Normandy landings are about to take place.

This excellent Korean movie can quite rightly stand alongside many Hollywood blockbusters such is the epic sweeping scope about it. It was all done on a modest $26 million budget – proof that you don’t need to waste over $100 million dollars like Hollywood to make a good movie. I think it was the biggest amount of money ever spent on a Korean movie. It’s directed by Je-Kyu Kang who knows about making good war movies as he was the man who also helmed Taegukgi – Brotherhood Of War (if you like your war movies definitely do not miss this movie). The premise about two Asian men fighting the Allies during D-Day might sound far-fetched on paper until you discover that the movie is actually loosely based on a true story about a Korean man, Yang Kyoungjong, who was forced to fight for the Japanese, Soviet and German army. He was captured in Normandy after the US Army overran the German defences. I loved the idea of a Korean and a Japanese man having their fates tied together from the time they were kids right into adulthood and how their relationship changes over the years from being rivals in marathon running to comrades in arms hoping that they’ll find a way back home.

The blend of war scenes with that of the rivalry between the 2 main characters is perfect. The running time motors along at a brisk pace and before you know it you’re at the breathtaking climax. Even though the movie is over two hours long, it is always interesting and never boring with plenty of incidents taking place although I did find it sometimes ridiculous how things panned out for the two foreigners. Take this scenario in the final third of the movie as Jun Sik and Tatsuo have planned to sneak off the front line in Normandy to catch a boat to go home but just as they’re about to make their escape the Allies start bombarding the Normandy coastline and storm the beaches. The two soldiers are forced to man the heavy guns to repel the American invaders off the beach. There’s a great twist right near the end which I won’t spoil for you and it is quite unexpected.

my way screenshot

The battle scenes in the movie of which there are 3 are well executed, realistic, brutal and intense. One of them has the Soviets attacking the Japanese army by tanks. The Japanese soldiers (some of which are Korean prisoners) with Tatsuo as their commander have been ordered to go on a suicide mission to destroy the tanks. The Normandy beach landings is also exhilarating to watch. It’s as good if not better than Saving Private Ryan with the camera taking you right into the heart of the action. The battle scenes does not shirk from showing the horrors of war. The cinematography is fantastic taking us from the Far East, snowy Siberia and finally to the shores of Northern France. It is spectacular and stunning. The filmmakers couldn’t have picked two better actors to play the two main characters in Dong-gun Jang and Joe Odagiri. They’re the biggest assets this movie has and their performances are faultless. In Joe Odagiri as Tatsuo we see his character begin the movie as an arrogant nasty person who changes over the years into being someone the viewer can warm to.

As this is mostly a testosterone movie, the only female with a small role as a Chinese sniper is Fan BingBing. It’s such a shame she’s not in the movie for long as I liked her character. The only gripe about this movie is it skipped certain things such as how the two men joined the German army. The viewer sees the pair escape from the Russians into the snowy wilderness and the next thing we see is Tatsuo as a German soldier. I would have liked to have seen the circumstances of how the pair became German soldiers.

Overall, My Way is a movie that has it all from superb battle scenes, well developed characters and an incredible story spanning the whole of WWII. It is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Silmido (2003)

silmido-poster

The year is 1968 and a 31 member crack commando team from North Korea has covertly crossed the border over to the South to carry out a mission to assassinate the South Korean dictator President Park Chung-Hee but they are discovered and killed. The South decide to retaliate and carry out a mission of their own to kill the North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung. The 31 member team will comprise of criminals on death row who will be trained by the army on the secretive island of Silmido and have the code name of Unit 684. 2 years of intense hard training takes place on the island and the date on which the mission takes place is set but just as the men who are eager to put into practice what they’ve been learnt are ready to go the mission is scrapped as relations between the North and South get better. The government decides to abandon the project leaving the men effectively prisoners on the island. There are darker plans to kill all the men in Unit 684. Failure to do so would mean the deaths of all the training officers. The men revolt, kill their training officers and make their way to the South Korean mainland. Their plan is to try and talk with the President to air their grievances. They steal a bus full of passengers and head for Seoul but will they reach their objective of seeing the President?

This is a brilliant movie based on a real incident which has become a stain in South Korean history that would have otherwise been swept under the carpet and forgotten about had it not been for a prisoner who became intrigued by a fellow inmate’s story about Silmido. The prisoner dug a little more into the story and this eventually spiralled into a best-selling book about a top secret government project.  This movie is a story about the controversial project. Naturally it isn’t 100% historically accurate as the filmmakers have used some dramatic licence to make it more interesting. If this movie makes you think it’s a little bit like The Dirty Dozen you’d be right about that but this is so much more. It’s a historical story about what was going on in the Korean peninsula at the time. South Korea had a military regime in charge during the 60’s, 70’s and part of the 80’s. Their attitude was to try and destroy their communist neighbours at all costs without taking up arms and declaring war of course. These days South Korea is a successful democratic nation but the people still remember the dark days of the past.

Silmido screenshot

This is a mostly male testosterone/patriotic movie with hardly any females featured. The first half of the movie brings the 31 criminals together and their harsh training on Silmido. We’re talking hard, intense, gruelling in-your-face stuff here where the weak don’t survive and this does happen when we see one of their members die (in fact 7 of the company eventually die).  The brutal training is all for the sake of creating the perfect soldier. Any ill-feeling that any of the members have with each other gradually disappear over time as they begin to bond and form a tight unit who are all united and are prepared to sacrifice themselves if necessary for the sake of their nation. The word “loyalty” gets spoken a lot throughout the movie. The team are shown improving their skills in all aspects such as being hopeless in shooting guns to becoming experts at hitting targets with deadly accuracy. They are now a highly polished killing-machine who are desperate to go on their mission more than their superiors so when it is scrapped all that training goes down the tubes. Discipline becomes ragged among them and it’s as if they don’t give a damn anymore and who can blame them. There’s a rather unsavoury scene as two of the soldiers disappear and rape a nurse which I think was a bit unnecessary and it’s made worse by the fact that one of the characters was rather likeable. The movie veers toward the dramatic in the second half as the unit break free from their imprisonment on Silmido island and head for Seoul. It ends in a shootout between government forces and the soldiers on a bus which is full of passengers. It was shameful that the soldiers had been pushed into this situation thanks to their own government who thought they could be gotten rid of easily as if they didn’t exist in the first place. Their attitude was eliminate them all and nobody will know anything about it and that’s what would have happened if it wasn’t for the book which exposed everything.

The acting from the cast is very good with the movie focusing on 2 individuals in the unit more than any of the others namely gang-leader Kang In-Chan and Han Seung-Pil. You will see some stock characters amongst the unit as well that you’ve probably seen in many war movies. I felt that it wasn’t the soldiers that stood out in the movie but the character of Choi Jae-Hyun, the head of the training officers in charge of shaping the soldiers . Don’t expect to see any character development taking place in the movie.

I thought this was a fantastic historical movie which was brilliantly directed by Kang Woo-Suk. The mix of drama and action works well. It’s a tragic tale set amidst the political machinations of South Korea during the late 60’s. This is high quality cinema and if you want to learn something about Korea’s sad past then go and check it out.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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oba the last samurai poster

Aka Battle Of The Pacific

The tide of war has turned in the Pacific Campaign and the Japanese are being pushed back by the Allies. On the island of Saipan, the Americans are leading a charge that has seen numerous victories for them. In a last push by the Japanese to retake the island on July 7th 1944, there is a large attack nicknamed the ‘banzai charge’ which results in 4,000 Japanese and 2,000 American soldiers being killed. Captain Sakae Oba who takes part in the attack miraculously survives. He retreats into the jungles around Mt Tapochou which has a commanding view of the island where he leads a bunch of soldiers in guerrilla warfare against the Americans. Their task is made harder as there’s a small community of Japanese civilians they have to protect. Colonel Pollard of the US Army declares that Saipan has been successfully liberated from the Japanese but that is far from being true as Oba’s tactics begin to frustrate him. Captain Herman Lewis is asked to try and flush him out as he is fluent in Japanese. He admires Oba’s skills and understands Japanese culture and philosophy as he spent 2 years living in Japan. As the war in the Pacific comes to an end in August 1945, Oba who by now is nicknamed ‘The Fox’ and his forces refuses to surrender and vow to fight on. Will he come to his senses and admit that there’s no point in fighting anymore or will they carry on resisting the Americans even though hostilities are over?

Based on a true story, the antics of Captain Sakae Oba have become legendary in Japan where his guerrilla warfare tactics frustrated the Americans on the island of Saipan for 18 months in 1944/45 until he and his troops officially surrendered in December 1945, 3 months after the war had ended. This isn’t a movie where it shows the American army as being villains against the heroic Japanese army, there is a nice balance showing both sides of the conflict in the story which I liked. This has been done before by Clint Eastwood but he split the story up into 2 separate movies. This being a Japanese movie it does portray some of the Americans are being somewhat racist especially Captain Lewis’ superior officer who doesn’t really care about the explanation why the Japanese fight to the death and never surrender.  Thankfully though, the character of Captain Lewis played by Sean McGowan is there to act as the sympathetic gaijin who respects Captain Oba. It could be that director Hideyuki Hirayama had one eye on the foreign market with this movie which is why there is so many Americans in the movie and they wanted Lewis’ character to understand and speak fluent Japanese so he could act as a go-between between the US Army and Oba. The cinematography is great but the movie wasn’t shot in Saipan or even in Japan at all but in Thailand. The jungle locations are beautiful and are used effectively in the hit and run battles that Oba employs against the Americans. As with most movies that deal with historical events, the story here isn’t 100% accurate. I think this movie might have been better had the American perspective been reduced or even taken out of the movie so that it focuses completely on the story of Captain Oba.

Oba-_The_Last_Samurai screenshot

The performance of most of the cast is rather good. I’m expecting that some of you out there may be expecting me to criticise the Western actors but for a change they perform adequately. It perhaps helps that the 3 main English parts were given to recognisable Hollywood names. OK, fair enough they may not be the A-list of Hollywood but Daniel Baldwin is probably known to a lot of people given that he comes from a famous family.  Yutaka Takenouchi is fantastic as Captain Oba and it’s obvious he took the role seriously as he slimmed down considerably to look the part of an emaciated soldier after months of hardened fighting in the jungle and whose steadfast mentality that his men will eventually win the battle of Saipan never waivers even though he probably knows deep down that the situation is hopeless. Oba isn’t a soldier by trade, he’s a geography teacher. He goes by the samurai philosophy that it would be better to die than surrender to the enemy – this was the Japanese military mentality at the time. Some of the movie focuses on Oba’s decisions and his leadership. Although some of his troops do not necessarily agree with his actions, the decisions he makes turns out to be correct. Oba didn’t have a choice but to do this. He had no superior officers to call upon as they had killed themselves and no way of contacting anybody outside the island. The only other cast member that stood out for me was the lovely Mao Inoue who plays a nurse called Aono who harbours a deep hatred towards the Americans as they killed her family whilst they were all sheltering in a cave. For most of the movie the only thing she wants to do is kill the Americans though she softens up a bit at the end when she sees an American nurse looking after a Japanese baby boy at a hospital who was discovered in an abandoned house.

I really liked this movie. It had a storyline that I found interesting and compelling with a powerful performance by Takenouchi as Oba. Definitely worth checking out.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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71: Into The Fire (2010)

71-Into-the-Fire-movie

It is the Summer of 1950 and the Korean War has broken out. Swarms of the North Korean Army have invaded deep into South Korea and the situation is getting worse. The remnants of the South Korean Army have been pushed far South with the President even asking if any volunteers that can hold a rifle to stand up and fight the advancing enemy even students. A group of 71 students led by an inexperienced and shell shocked young soldier is asked to defend a strategic point which strangely enough is a girls high school! The students will be left to train themselves with plenty of ammunition to fight off any invaders but will have no help from the army as they have been ordered to make a final stand against the North at Nakdong River. It looks dire for the students as in-fighting breaks out amongst them with many ammunition wasted and they are up against a mighty North Korean commander in Park Moo-rang who has given the students an ultimatum – either raise the white flag of surrender on the school or face annihilation against his fighting fit army who have Russian tanks to back them up. Will the students be able to do the impossible and fight an entire army off?

Believe it or not this story is actually based on a real-life event that happened during the early part of the Korean War in which a small group of 71 students held off the North Korean army for 11 hours until reinforcements came to help them out. My knowledge about the Korean War is minimal and I had no idea about this incident. I just found it incredible that a bunch of inexperienced students managed to do what they did. Talk about being brave, to have taken on such insurmountable odds knowing that they were staring death in the face was so courageous. A real David and Goliath moment. This movie doesn’t follow what happened to the exact word, some artistic licence obviously had to be used by the filmmakers but you more or less are given the gist of the famous battle that took place. The story is based on a letter by one of the students. The unfortunate thing with the plot revolving around a real-life incident is you already know the outcome.

71 Into The Fire screenshot

From the start of the movie you are thrown right into the heart of a fierce battle between the North and the South which mimics a scene out of Saving Private Ryan in which the main character Jung-Bum, a lowly scared soldier who goes around delivering fresh ammunition to the front line is partially made deaf due to being too close to a mortar going off. It’s exciting stuff as the South Korean army is made to retreat against a seemingly unstoppable force in the North Koreans led by a ruthless Commander who doesn’t take prisoners and wants all of those opposing him to be killed. After this battle, the story moves on to Jung-Bum being made the commander of the student army due to him having battle experience (however minimal that was) and his clashes with Ku-Kap Jo, a brash young male who has a choice of either going to jail for murder or join the student army. The viewer witnesses the transformation of Jung-Bum from a frightened and timid soldier who was too afraid to even fire a gun to being a brave leader and how he manages to get the respect of his peers including Ku-Kap Jo. It is through his leadership that he manages to rally the rest of the students into an effective fighting unit. The plot makes it abundantly clear how desperate the situation is with the North Koreans bulldozing their way down South quickly and efficiently. How the students come up with tactics of combating their heavily armed opponents at the school is interesting to see. Over the course of the story it is easy to see that they are only students and not professional soldiers as during one sequence a NK sniper opens fire on them and they impulsively charge after him only to get caught in an ambush. The words naïve and rash spring to mind.

The problem with Asian war movies these days is they are naturally going to be compared to another Korean war movie in Brotherhood. That was so epic that it made anybody else making a war movie to have a very difficult task of trying to top it. Whilst it doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of Brotherhood, there is much to admire in this movie directed by John H.Lee. He puts Hollywood to shame with showing what you can do on a tight budget. The entire movie only had a budget of $10 million dollars although you’d think it was a hell of a lot more. It’s in the final 20-30 minutes where the movie really comes together as the full might of the North Korean army bears down on the small rag-tag bunch of students.   The battle scenes whilst offering nothing new is impressive and puts the viewer slap bang as if you’re right there with the students.  Explosions go off, artillery whizz around and it doesn’t hold back on the horrors of war in showing the effects of bullets hitting the human body.

The cast is led by Korean hip-hop artist Choi Seung-hyeon better known as T.O.P from the group Big Bang. I’m sure many people thought he was only put into this movie to perhaps attract female fans so that the takings would swell. Maybe that was the case but I thought he performed well in his role as Jung-Bum. A very good choice to play a strong and silent hero. Playing his opposite number is Kwon-Sang woo as Ku-Kap Jo who rises up to challenge the leadership of Jung-Bum and the personal battle between them escalates over the course of the story. Thankfully mutual respect is achieved between them just in time for the attack of the NK army. The character that stood out for me the most was the calculating North Korean commander Park-Moo rang played by Cha Seung-won. A person that had no qualms about defying orders from his superiors in Pyongyang and even kills those that question him. I did think it was a bit of a mistake to make him into a god-like figure able to take a bullet and carry on as if nothing had happened to him. Then again it just makes him into more of a formidable adversary.

Overall, 71: Into The Fire is a brilliant war movie. It’s full of heroism, self-sacrifice and comradeship. The characters are engaging, it’s well made and stylishly directed.  If you’re a fan of war movies you can’t go wrong with this one. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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The Burmese Harp (1956)

The Burmese Harp dvdIt is nearing the end of WWII and a Japanese regiment is making their way through the Burma jungle by singing songs accompanied by a Burmese harp which is being played by Private Muzushima. It is obvious that the war has taken their toll on the tired and disillusioned regiment and they finally see a small village in a clearing to which they hope to rest and get food. They are welcomed by the villagers. As they start to sing again in a hut in the village as night falls, they realise that British soldiers are camped on the edge of the jungle. When the Japanese start to sing ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ they begin to hear the British singing the English version. The British enter the village and announce that the war is over and Emperor Hirohito has officially signed a formal surrender. Before repatriation, the soldiers are told they are being moved down south to a prisoner camp in Mudon. The Captain of the Japanese regiment asks for a volunteer for a special mission on behalf of the British. A small group of Japanese soldiers have dug themselves into a cave on a mountain and refuse to surrender. Even though the mountain is being bombarded the soldiers refuse to give in. Muzushima’s task is to go to the mountain, tell the soldiers the war is over and hopefully persuade them to lay down their arms.  However Muzushima’s task goes horribly wrong as the soldiers refuse to surrender and want to fight to the death. During a heavy aerial attack by the British, Muzushima is knocked out and when he wakes up he finds the entire group is dead.  Nursed back to health by a Buddhist monk, he takes on their guise and wanders the Burmese countryside where he discovers the true horror of war. Meanwhile his former regiment thinks that he’s dead until they come across a monk walking across a bridge that looks like Muzushima. They encounter the monk several times and hear a harp playing a familiar tune and finally they get the answer they were wanted  – that the monk is indeed Muzushima. As the date for the regiment’s repatriation comes closer, they try to send a message to Muzushima  and ask if he’ll come back home to Japan with them but Muzushima has another task he wants to do before going back home.

The title of this movie comes from a Burmese harp that’s acquired by the leading character Muzushima who in turn becomes an expert harpist player. This is possibly one of the greatest anti-war movies I’ve ever seen even though I didn’t think that was going to be the case during the opening 30 minutes. Rather than focusing on big battles, the story leans more towards the terrible suffering and the human effects of war. My first impression was this is quite a strange war movie which was more interested in showing a group of Japanese soldiers singing their way through the jungles of Burma. However, the story becomes more interesting, very sad and moving once the Japanese unit has been destroyed on the mountain and Muzushima has recovered from his wounds.  His transformation from a soldier to a man of peace is a symbol of what Japan had to do after the end of the war in which it’s constitution was changed by the US to becoming a pacifist nation. The country had to come to terms with defeat, deal with the consequences of war and start to heal itself. Probably the most powerful scene you’ll see in this movie is when Muzushima comes across dead Japanese soldiers’ bodies piled up high near a river and being picked on by vultures. It’s one of those scenes so sobering and shocking it really does make you wonder about the futility of war. It is only after this life-changing experience and seeing the British burying their dead that Muzushima’s spiritual awakening and journey begins and he feels compelled to give each and every Japanese soldier that has died in Burma a dignified burial and to pray for their souls.

The Burmese Harp screenshot

The movie has been criticised in some quarters as painting a somewhat romanticised view of the Japanese soldier. Yes, it is true that many horrific acts were perpetrated by the Japanese during the war and nobody can say otherwise but what this movie is trying to say is the soldiers were also human beings who suffered just as much as the Allied troops.  It’s all too easy to paint every Japanese soldier as vicious bloodthirsty brutes.  Music plays a large role in this story and whenever you’ll hear the tune ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ which is sung regularly it’ll instantly make you think of this movie. The songs you hear the soldiers singing is to remind them of happier times and to lift their spirits. I also liked the fact that music brings 2 enemies together as a force for peace. The melody of the harp being played by Muzushima is so haunting and melancholic. The cinematography in this movie is incredible – a simple shot of raindrops running along a barbed wire fence before dripping off is just one example of some stunning camera shots. Another great shot is that of the Schwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon which is shown in all of its glory – such a beautiful temple. There’s nothing you can really say about Shoji Yasui’s performance as Muzushima except that it’s brilliant. Rentaro Mikuni also gives an amazing performance as Captain Inouye – Muzushima’s regiment commanding officer.

This was the movie that gave director Kon Ichikawa international recognition. It was the catalyst for many more great movies he would create. He loved this movie so much he remade it again during in 1985! The novel by Michio Takeyama which this movie has been based on was originally geared towards young adults but Ichikawa and his wife adapted it into a more graphic adult story.

The Burmese Harp is a movie that should be on any film fan’s list to watch. The story might be sad, full of symbolism and allegory but it’s not too sentimental or even preachy about how war is bad. I did tear up several times during the movie and I’m sure other viewers will do the same. If this movie doesn’t touch you in one way it’s obvious that you don’t have a soul. It’s a movie that goes straight to the heart. Very highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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After their defeat at the hands of the Russians right at the conclusion of Part II, Kaji and a small group of survivors battle through enemy territory as they try to make their way down south and back to their former lives. 160 men from his platoon are dead. Coming across a bunch of Japanese refugees, they struggle to find food and shelter in some dense woods, all the while trying to hide from the enemy. A small group from various other defeated Japanese army units they come across are adamant that they’ll make a final stand even with depleted supplies but Kaji refuses to join them. Kaji is convinced that the Red army is unlike the Japanese army – they look after and treat their prisoners well. Even after a body of a Japanese woman is dumped on a road by a passing Russian army truck with her usefulness to the Russian soldiers having come to an end isn’t enough to make Kaji change his mind. He thinks this is just an isolated incident. After numerous skirmishes and narrow escapes, the 15 strong soldier group led by Kaji happen by chance to see a village. There they find that the village is full of women. The men take the opportunity to have some intimate moments with the women except for Kaji. He will not cheat on his wife. Some of the men want to stay on at the village and Kaji doesn’t object to the idea. He will carry on in his journey to reunite with his wife but that plan is scuppered when a passing Russian patrol appears. The group is all set to attack them when one of the women villagers betrays them. This is her payback as Kaji rejected her advances. Kaji thinks this is the perfect time for them to surrender and this he does with the rest following suit. Shipped off to a POW camp, Kaji comes across an old enemy of his who wants revenge. He makes life tough for Kaji. Finding that nothing is any different in the Russian side than it is in a Japanese POW camp, Kaji is set to break out on his own but not before he has settled an old score. Will Kaji manage to escape sucessfully and finally reunite with his wife Michiko?

The last part of this extraordinary trilogy is probably the best movie out of them all. I expected a happy conclusion of sorts but I was wrong. Instead it gives a gut wrenching finale that doesn’t give you the heart warming feeling that you thought you might be getting. I was hoping that Kaji’s torment would end with him back in the arms of his trusted wife but we are denied that happy ending. The story comes full circle as he finds himself entrenched in the very network of activity that he tried so desperately to both avoid and restructure, while enduring the same labours as the Chinese men he fought so bravely for in the first movie. His socialist philosophy is finally broken when he realizes that Stalinist Russia is NOT a friend to the people. At the climax Kaji is but a mere shell of a man – shuffling through the snowy landscape with the only thing making him go on is the thought of seeing his wife again. The viewer has become so attached to him and his struggle, that we begin to feel similarly, and as a result we are left with one of the most moving endings ever. I won’t spoil anything, but any viewer will be floored by it. This is heartbreak cinema at its most crushing and honest.

The acting is inspiring by the entire cast but the whole trilogy has been all about the brilliant Tatsuya Nakadai as Kaji. Kaji is certainly a remarkable character throughout the epic trilogy and we’ve witnessed how he has changed considerably from the first movie when he was in charge of the mining plant. His growth as a leader, as a torn conscience, as a rejector of anything regarding duty and service to country just to survive, as a now somewhat accepted killer and finally as a lost soul unable to get back to his old life with Michiko. It’s an incredible transformation over the course of the trilogy that marks Kaji as one of the greatest cinema characters to come out of Japan.

One of the greatest anti-war trilogies you’ll ever see. Masaki Kobayashi has to be commended for his remarkable directing and compelling storyline. The cinematography for the trilogy has been so outstanding. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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The 2nd in the 9 hour epic Human Condition trilogy finds our anti-war hero Kaji having been shipped off for basic training in the Japanese army at a boot-camp where once again his views bring him into conflict with his superiors. Standing up against what he believes is too brutal a regime against rookie soldiers, he argues that the recruits should not have to be humiliated daily by superior officers. Obara, a weak rookie is subjected to a series of humiliating ordeals which leads to him committing suicide with a rifle. Kaji is determined to bring the officer who picked on Obara to justice but before he can do that, he is promoted up the ranks for being a disciplined soldier and an excellent sniper. He is given a new batch of recruits to mould them into shape and he treats them with dignity and respect but a group of grizzled veterans aren’t very happy that he isn’t bullying them so they take out their anger on him but Kaji refuses to fight back. With growing tensions inside the army camp thanks to Kaji, his superiors send him off along with 28 other men to Southern Manchuria to dig trenches with the advancing Russian army bearing down on them. Kaji and his men are ill prepared to face the Russians and their tanks. Will he manage to survive the encounter?

I actually enjoyed this much more than the first movie. A lot of the movie seems to be a criticism on the pointlessly brutal system where rookie soldiers were beaten up for no reason whatsoever by their immediate superiors. The officers did nothing to change this and Kaji still refuses to bend to this insane situation. Instead of focusing on teamwork and camaraderie which would help them in training, superior officers were only intent on destroying the weak. It’s quite a depressing but well made indictment on Japanese militaristic mentality during the era. Kaji’s ideas about the worth of the individual and the humanity of mankind is in direct opposition to the militarism of Japan at the time which gets him into a lot of trouble. He refuses to disregard his own principles and actually saves a few rookies from being severely beaten at boot-camp largely by taking the beatings himself. He thinks it’s better to earn their respect and loyalty with kindness, rather than brutality. There’s a poignant scene where Kaji’s wife comes to visit him and they get to spend one night together in a cold storeroom. Before saying goodbye the following morning, Kaji asks his wife to strip off as that’s the image he wants to remember her. Kaji doesn’t expect to come back alive from the front line.

There’s no drop in quality from the first movie – beautiful black and white cinematography, superb acting especially from Tatsuya Nakadai as Kaji and great directing by Masaki Kobayashi. The battlefield sequence at the end of the movie show the full horror of war and Kobayashi doesn’t shirk away from showing dismembered limbs, blown up bodies, and madness taking away men’s lives. Even though the movie lasts for 3 hours, it’s such an engrossing story that you never get bored watching it.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the trilogy ends. I hope that Kaji is reunited once more with his loyal wife Michiko – a source of strength to him.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Set during the start of the Korean War, US Captain Neil Smith crash lands his plane in a remote part of Korea after being caught up in a mysterious butterfly storm. He is found by people from the small village of Dongmakgol where time has stood still. They have no idea their country is at war and they have no knowledge of modern technology and weapons. Not far from the village, a platoon of North Korean soldiers are massacred with a few barely escaping through a mountain pass. In a beautiful glade, they are found by a strange girl Yeo-il who they think is a little bit crazy. She leads them to Dongmakgol but find that their enemy is already there – 2 South Korean deserters who have found their way to the village. A stand-off ensues which lasts for a while. The villagers have no idea what both sets of soldiers are fighting about. The stand-off finishes when a grenade is dropped accidentally by a fatigued North Korean soldier but it does not explode. Thinking that it’s a dud, it is thrown away only for it to explode and destroy the village’s food store. Realising that their intrusion has caused the villagers to lose their food, both sets of soldiers plus Neil Smith start to help in the village and the tension between them begins to lessen. But there is trouble when Allied Commanders are about to launch a rescue mission for Captain Smith. Thinking he is in enemy hands and held at a secret base, they begin preparations to bomb the village placing the villagers in imminent danger. The soldiers devise a plan to create a decoy enemy base so that the bombs will be dropped far away from the village thus saving everybody but will their audacious plan work?

This is such a wonderful anti-war movie which is quite touching. I loved how a village full of innocent people could make 2 sets of soldiers forget about the war, set aside their differences and come together as human beings. The bonding between them and the villagers is delightful to watch and Yeo-il is quite an endearing character – she’s probably the main symbol of innocence in the movie and the way she acts reminds you of a child that hasn’t grown up. The harsh realities of war are forgotten and to see the soldiers do their best to protect what the village represents – a small utopia in a war zone is moving. It’s such an engaging movie that will make you laugh and cry. The blend of drama and comedy is perfect. The wild boar chase and the ‘popcorn’ falling from the sky after the village food store is destroyed will certainly make you smile.

Outstanding performances from the entire cast right from the main leads to the supporting roles. The characters especially the villagers are easy to identify with. As the soldiers begin to ‘shed’ their war-like identities to became a part of Dongmakgol you begin to like all of them. You cheer for them as they seek to protect the village from the bombing disaster that’s about to happen and shed some tears for the sacrifice they make for their village friends in a fitting and poignant climax. Excellent cinematography and a quite brilliant debut for director Park Kwang-Hyun. Hayao Miyazaki’s composer for his Ghibli movies – Joe Hisashi created a beuatiful and evocative soundtrack.

Welcome To Dongmakgol is one of the best Korean movies I’ve seen this year with a charming feel-good story that’s very heartwarming. You just cannot miss out on this if you’re an Asian movie fan. I enjoyed it immensely. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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City Of Life And Death (2010)

The movie takes place in 1937, during the height of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Imperial Japanese Army invades the then-capital of the Republic of China, Nanjing. What followed was known as the Nanking Massacre, a period of several weeks wherein massive numbers of Chinese prisoners of war and civilians were killed.

A very powerful, harrowing and bleak movie depicting the atrocities that took place in Nanjing during the Japanese occupation of the city during WW2. It’s a documentary-like testimony to the cruelties of war. It holds nothing back. Superbly filmed in black and white, the camera seems to capturing events as they happen and the images that you witness in this movie will live with you long after the end credits has finished. It’s heartbreaking and upsetting. One such scene in particular is really gutwrenching: it’s where captured Chinese soldiers are led to a place where they will be executed, and just before getting mown down by machine guns the soldiers shout “Long live China” and “China will not die”. The movie will make you think long and hard how human beings can do such terrible to each other. As this is a Chinese production, you’re probably wondering if this just national propoganda as I’m fully aware that the Chinese people have never really forgiven the nation of Japan for what they did to them during the war. The wounds run deep and the hate for the Japanese especially among the elder population is very real. This isn’t a movie that takes sides at all. The story is told through the eyes and feelings of a few characters (Japanese and Chinese) thus giving us a point of view from the two sides. It was a good idea by the director to have a sympathetic Japanese soldier Kadokawa so that the viewer doesn’t just hate the lot of them. There is also no real character development to speak of, since most of these characters are just trying to stay sane or alive. If ever there was a movie to show us that war is hell then this is it thanks to writer-director Chuan Lu and cinematographer Yu Cao. Its as much anti-war as you can get. There is great horror shown from the normal horrors of warfare, to numerous and frequent graphic rapes, nastiness involving children and pretty much every kind of cruelty you can think of.

City Of Life Or Death is a masterpiece and a remarkable movie experience that everybody should see, telling us about a dark chapter in world history which will never be forgotten. It’s a difficult movie to watch, that there is no doubt but see this and be prepared to be moved. Outstanding.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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The Front Line (2011)

Towards the end of the Korean War, a South Korean battalion is fiercely battling over a hill on the front line border against the North in order to capture a strategic point (Aerok Hill) that would determine the new border between two nations. The ownership of this small patch of land swap numerous times over the course of the war. 1st Lieutenant Kang is dispatched to the front line to join a unit nicknamed Alligator Company by the Americans in order to investigate the rumours that a mole is passing information to the North and that their former captain has been killed in suspicious circumstances. But he gets spiraled into the war that’s more terrifying than death itself when he meets his friend Kim, who has transformed from a meek person into a war machine, along with his unit. As the countdown for ceasefire begins, both sides become more vicious, resulting in deaths of countless lives until the last man can claim the hill.

Unlike the epic war movie Brotherhood of War, The Front Line takes a different approach – concentrating instead on the futility of war itself. It’s not about heroics but about survival so we don’t get to see any war heroes but men deeply scarred by the conflict who just want to go home to their families. Used as pawns by their superiors in a back and forth battle for a useless piece of land which sees countless die. The movie doesn’t start out as a straight forward war movie though but as a mystery as we follow Kang in his mission by his superiors to track down a mole and a potential traitor in Alligator Company. Director Jang Hoon gives us a viewpoint from both sides in the war – one ingenious plot device is by the way of a drop box hidden inside a bunker in which the soldiers exchange letters and alcohol.

The characters (which most viewers will be familar with already from similar war movies) we encounter are all sympathetic to the viewer, showing their hopes and fears, questioning why they are fighting. As we near the end we see their joy as the armistice has been signed signalling the end of the war but that joy is shortlived when they are told the ceasefire will not take place until 12 hours later and their superiors demand one last battle out of them to capture Aerok Hill. You sort of sense that some of the characters will not survive this final skirmish. The battle scenes are spectacular and explosive putting us right in the thick of the action, showing the immense effort that Alligator Company have to give in order to capture Aerok Hill with the North soldiers dug in bunkers and mowing down the soldiers of the South with their machine guns. The sub-plot with the company coming under fire regularly from a female North sniper they nickname ‘Two Seconds’ was really good.

The Front Line suffers a bit with it’s long running time. Take away around 30 mins and the movie might have been better. The downtime between the battles I thought at times were fairly dull and padded out. Thankfully unlike other war movies there isn’t any melodrama here. The only real criticism I can give is there was just too much talking and not enough action for my liking. The cast give a really good account of themselves in their roles. Whilst I admire the director for trying to give us something a little bit different, I still rate Brotherhood of War as the ultimate Korean war movie I’ve seen.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Fires On The Plain (1959)

It is near the end of World War II and on the Phillipine island of Leyte, a group of starving and demoralised Japanese soldiers abandoned by their superiors are in retreat from the advancing American army. A young private in the Imperial Army called Tamura is in the final stages of tubercolosis. Ordered to go back to the hospital by the remnants of his unit, Tamura is given a grenade and told to kill himself if necessary. Turned away by the medics at the hospital, he joins up with other soldiers who wander the land looking desperately for any kind of food that’s available. Tamura is disturbed when he hears them say that they resorted to cannibalism in New Guinea. But will he do that if the situation arises?

This is a bleak and very depressing anti-war movie which shows the dehumanisation that can happen to men when their needs become desperate and they turn to eating other people. We’ve become used over the years to seeing gung-ho war movies which sees troops overcoming odds to triumph in some battle or another but this movies is completely the opposite and gives us a portrait of pathetic looking troops who are undersupplied, bedraggled and starving so much that they have no other alternative but to eat human meat. Director Kon Ichikawa shows us some truly horrific scenes such as a pile of bodies of Japanese soldiers outside a church being eaten by birds, a mad soldier eating his own shit and offering his arm to be eaten to Tamura and then near the climax we get to see a soldier with his face covered in blood feasting on a person that he just shot. Those gruesome images and more will be ingrained on your memory long after the end credits have finished. The movie is beautifully shot in striking black and white with excellent performances from the cast especially by Eiji Funakoshi as Tamura. The director is telling us in this movie that war is hellish when you’re on the losing side. He doesn’t try to make a hero out of the main character Tamura at all – he’s just a doomed soldier that’s trying to stay alive in a foreign land and hanging on to whatever humanity he’s got left in him.

Fires On The Plain is brutal, uncompromising and intense as any war movie you may have seen. There are some fleeting moments of black humour such as when a soldier finds a better pair of shoes on a corpse and takes them, the next soldier that comes along does the same and this goes on until Tamura sees that the ones on the ground are no better than his own (they have a gaping big hole in the sole) so he takes his shoes off and carries on barefoot. This movie won’t be for everyone. It is utterly depressing and fairly graphic for it’s time which caused a bit of a stir but it’s a fantastic movie if you’ve got the stomach for it.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Red Cliff (2008)

Red Cliff is an epic historical drama based on a legendary 208 A.D battle that heralded the end of the Han Dynasty. Power hungry Prime Minister-turned-General Cao Cao is seeking permission from the Han Dynasty Emperor to organize a southward-bound mission designed to crush two troublesome warlords that stand in his way, Liu Bei and Sun Quan. As the expedition gets under way, Cao Cao’s troops rain destruction on Liu Bei’s army, forcing the latter to retreat. Liu Bei’s military strategist Zhuge Liang knows that their only hope for survival is to form an alliance with rival warlord Sun Quan, and reaches out to Sun Quan’s trusted advisor, war hero Zhou Yu. The newly formed alliance make their last stand, where Cao Cao and his massive forces advance, seeking to crush all resistance in their path.

Outstanding war movie which is unlike most you may have watched in this genre. This is the largest movie ever made in China which had a budget of $80 million dollars. It went over budget and over schedule. Red Cliff was not scripted to just excite you with a war-mongering gorefest, it mesmerises you with military strategy too. The story develops to much more than just a battle of two dynasties, it engrosses you and you will enjoy it if you already love the genre. A compelling historical story by director John Woo with the highlight being the battle sequences which are absolutely amazing. He understands what it takes to make an epic movie and in Red Cliff he clicks all the right buttons. If you thought Hollywood did impressive battle scenes then you’ve aint seen nothing yet. They’re so intense with arrows, spears and swords flying here, there and everywhere. There’s tons of blood but it’s not shown just for gore’s sake.

The acting is flawless by all the cast led by Takeshi Kaneshiro, the cinematography is out of this world, the soundtrack is equisite, the costumes are beautiful to look at and the movie as a whole is just so damn good. This movie serves as a per­fect introduc­tion to all the char­ac­ters and the con­flict of the story. It sets every­one to be ready for the real Battle of Red Cliff in the sequel. As a movie that bal­ances both action and char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, Red Cliff is def­i­nitely one of the best Asian war movie of all times. I didn’t want this movie to end – that’s how much I enjoyed it. Red Cliff Part 2 will be reviewed soon.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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The Warlords (2007)

This is a period epic in every sense of the word. It covers a lot of ground depicting war and it’s consequences. It tells the story of three “brothers” played brilliantly by Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro who make a pact of brotherhood to one another that consists of killing anyone who harms one of the brothers and killing any brother who harms another brother as they lead an army through war after war taking over city after city. The cinematography is outstanding, the budget is huge, the directing brilliant and the war scenes brutal as can be. The battle scenes didn’t pull any punches either. Blood flies across the screen as limbs roll on the ground. It’s truly fantastic. They are the highlight of the film as the first half seems to not pull away from the battlefield. The film is also extremely colorful. Every scene is stunningly vibrant. There are so many memorable scenes from the film and half of that is due to how they were shot. The Warlords is one of the best Chinese war epics I’ve ever seen.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Assembly (2007)

One of the best war movies I’ve ever witnessed with some outstanding battle scenes. The movie is a tale of 2 halves spanning 10 years. The first half covers the Chinese Civil and Korean war whilst the 2nd half finds our main character Captain Gu Zidi now half blind after the end of the Korean war trying to find the bodies of his fallen comrades that died 8 years previously and gain recognition that they died as heroes for their country.

This Chinese movie is an incredible blockbuster. I found it to be both moving and touching. Everything about this production is fantastic such as the realistic battle scenes which are reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan and Brotherhood. Zhang Hanyu gives such an amazing performance as Gu Zidi. I highly recommend it.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Yamato (2005)

Makiko Uchida arrives in a southern Japanese port hoping to find a boat that will take her to the final resting place of the Battleship Yamato on the 60th anniversary of its sinking. She is rebuffed by all until she reveals to Katsumi Kamio that she is the daughter of Petty Officer Uchida. Kamio is surprised for he thought unlike himself, Uchida had been lost when the Yamato was besieged and sunk on April 7, 1945 by American aircraft which prevented its fulfilling a final suicide mission against the American fleet battling to capture Okinawa. Kamio and Uchida were part of a close set of comrades that proudly and bravely served on board this, the largest battleship ever constructed. He agrees to journey with Makiko with only the help of Atsushi, a 15 year old deckhand. As he pilots the way throughout the rough 15 hour journey Kamio reminiscences about life aboard the Yamato during the war and also about the sailor’s mothers and girlfriends left back home.

Brilliant movie about the awesome Japanese battleship Yamato, the crew that served aboard her and how she met her demise at the hands of American forces off Okinawa. It also showed the human side of war focusing on the young crew. One memorable scene has them facing their homeland and saying goodbye to their loved ones before battle knowing full well that they were going to certain death. Powerful stuff indeed. There are a couple of good battles but the best has been saved for the climax. I thought this was a very good movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 out of 5

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