Tae Guk Gi (2004) by Kang Je-gyu

A haunting and touching story of a Korean family whose happiness is disrupted by the cruelty of 1950's Korean War.




By Saayak Santra

After “Shiri” (1999), Kang Je-gyu’s most notable movie is “Tae Guk Gi” (2004). At the 50th Asia Pacific Film Festival, “Tae Guk Gi” won the Best Film award and Kang Je-gyu was awarded the one for Best Director.  At the Grand Bell Awards in South Korea, “Tae Guk Gi” won three technical awards, for art direction, cinematography, and sound effects.

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A haunting and touching story of a Korean family whose happiness is disrupted by the cruelty of 1950's Korean War. We get to know two brothers, elder Jin- tae and younger Jin-seok, with the former overprotecting the latter, who is recruited in the war. In order to get this brother out of danger, the older embarks in any suicidal mission or risk situation possible.

Director and writer Kang Je-gyu shot this film beautifully. The battle sequences are as intense as any seen in modern war films, with shaky cameras, explosions, mutilations, blood and all.



The movie presents a realistic view on the destruction of war through death and, sometimes even worse, survival. Dialogues are well-written. The most interesting thing is that "Tae Guk Gi" doesn't take sides. Kang Je-gyu depicts the insanity of war, and how innocent people can get tangled up in its vortex. Here, the South Koreans are as ruthless and vicious as the North Koreans. The absurdity and meaninglessness of war was clearly shown by the two brothers' struggle. The drama is just a bit too much; the realism of the war scenes is pretty much as it should be. The performances of lead actors are excellent.

The editing by Kyeong-hie Choi, although choppy at times, as it shuffles between personal moments and huge battle sequences, is evenly paced. There is never a dull moment throughout. The score by Lee Dong-jun opens the movie with a patriotic, yet emotional theme. The editing, particularly during the battle scenes, is ingenious. The editing only allows the viewer to see horrific, gory, violent images for a fraction of a second. Scenes are presented as the soldiers must have seen them. A soldier who is fighting may see a comrade get shot in the face, but he gets no time to approach the scene of the crime to dwell on it. He is more likely to move on, with the terrible images of such brutality left lingering at the edges of his mind, for he has his own life to defend and his own duty to attend.

The cinematography by Hong Kyung-pyo is magnificent. Location settings enliven the visual quality of the film. The realistic set pieces are brought to the forefront by the cinematography, as the war moves from the southern countryside of the Korean peninsula, to the snowy regions in the north. The intricate, realistic and beautiful reconstruction of 1950s South Korea just before the surprise invasion by the North, and the chilling war-torn streets of Pyongyang and Seoul is amazing.



It is filmed in a beautiful way, with classic as well as contemporary shots. It contains some of the most convincing combat footage ever lensed by a non -documentary filmmaker. The production design is extraordinarily elaborate though, a luxury that makes this film seems more inspired by Hollywood style filmmaking than Korean New Wave. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons behind its extraordinary success at the Asian box office, and therefore a smart move by the director. The concept of writers trying to break out of usual and obvious dialogues in order to make the conversations more realistic is a new trend. Therefore, in “Tae Guk Gi,”which was shot in 2004, there are many clichéd conversations in the screenplay. Then again, isn’t war a bad cliché itself?

To the South Koreans, their Northern neighbors were enemies or were projected as such. However, when they meet them face-to-face in the battlefield, they realize that nations do not fight wars, citizens do. These citizens are honorable men and women who serve their country willingly or, as history shows, by decree of a desperate government which was played and exploited by some other bigger powers.


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Asian Film Vault: Tae Guk Gi (2004) by Kang Je-gyu
Tae Guk Gi (2004) by Kang Je-gyu
A haunting and touching story of a Korean family whose happiness is disrupted by the cruelty of 1950's Korean War.
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