My Way (“Mai Wei”)
This Korean film is based on a true
story, and what an incredible story it is.
Jun-shik Kim (Dong-gun Jang) grows up in
in a family of house servants. He has
tremendous talent as a runner, and soon distinguishes himself in local races,
and dreams of entering the Olympics. But
world events intervene.
is occupied by
, and the house’s new owners, who are Japanese, also have a son, Tatsuo
Hasegawa (Jo Odagiri), about the same age as Jun-shik, and also a fine runner.
They are rivals, but class distinctions prevent them from being
“buddies” as they grow older. Tatsuo
goes off to military school, and Jun-shik remains behind, driving a rickshaw,
and accepting larger tips for his ability to pull his cart faster.
The War comes home to
when the Koreans are conscripted by the Japanese to fight against the
Mongolians. Jun-shik Kim and all his
contemporaries are drafted, quite unwillingly, and find themselves forced to
fight, against a foe they do not consider an enemy and for a country that is
not their own. Besides, the “Korean
regiment” is treated with disdain by the “pure race” Japanese soldiers.
By this time, Tatsuo is a colonel in the Japanese army, and treats his
old boyhood rival Jun-shik with contempt, as he does all the enlisted men.
But suddenly they find themselves fighting the Russians, who are eager
to expand their eastern frontier. And
the Russians have tanks, while the Japanese have only rifles and samurai
swords. Tatsuo, during the battle, is
shouting at his men about not retreating, and even shooting the ones who are
turning to run, but a nearby explosion knocks him out, and the next thing he
knows, he is a prisoner of war, along with Jun-shik and a few other soldiers
in his former unit. Except now the old
distinctions no longer apply. The
“Big Dog” in the Soviet POW camp is a former Korean conscript serving the
Japanese army, and he has learned Russian, calls himself “Anton,” and
completely turned himself over to his Russian captors.
He takes his revenge on Tatsuo and the other Japanese POWs by letting
them know they will no longer consider themselves superior, and in fact, their
former ranks now mean nothing. The
Soviet guards have to break up several fights between the two ethnic groups,
and finally, when Germany invades, decide to send them all to the front
When they finally arrive, by train, in
, they are given rifles and told to go charge the Nazis, who are, still, the
well-organized fighting machine that had conquered all of Europe (this was
before their defeat at
and their long retreat westward). Tatsuo
and Jun-shik, now fighting side-by-side once more, but as Russian privates,
again are wounded and knocked out by explosions, and again find themselves
captured. Though their paths diverge
for a time (and here the movie skips three years), they are again conscripted,
and both find themselves in the German army, both stationed at
, in the Spring of 1944, training for the anticipated Allied invasion.
They are told that the real
invasion is going to happen at
, but just as they receive their orders to transfer, it’s June 6th,
and the actual invasion happens right in front of them.
This time, Tatsuo and Jun-shik, seeing the incredible armada before
them, just try to run, but Jun-shik is wounded and Tatsuo cannot leave him
behind, and now they are surrounded by American paratroopers, and captured
Of all the stories now coming out about
World War II, as the veterans of that incredible war die by the hundreds every
day, this one seems the most fantastic, and yet Director Je-Kyu Kang plays it
as a straight narrative, giving us glimpses into several different cultures
even as he depicts the horrors of war, not just on the battlefield, but in the
prisoner-of-war camps and training regimens that precede and follow the actual
combat. It’s a story of incredible
perseverance, entrenched cultural conflict, reluctant friendship becoming
fierce loyalty, and the indefatigability of the human spirit.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,