A fascinating historical footnote becomes an excuse to throw lots of money at the screen in Kang Je-kyu’s “My Way.” Every trick in a very well-worn book is used in this frenzied WWII tale of rivals — one Korean, one Japanese — thrust onto history’s stage as they careen from the Japanese to the Soviet to the German armies. Like Kang’s “Taegukgi,” pic operates on the notion that indiscriminate action in service of a formulaic script will keep auds clutching their armrests, but the results fail to grip. There won’t be much market for this sort of thing away from home.
Even there, returns have disappointed, with a more-than-respectable 2 million admissions that can’t nearly make up for the film’s $25 million outlay. The coin heaped on the production is at least readily visible, with expenditures carefully detailed in press notes that hail statistics such as 57,500 bullets used (blanks, presumably), averaging 3.4 projectiles per hired extra.
“My Way” is a fanciful imagining of the story behind a 1944 photo of a captured Korean soldier in Nazi uniform after D-Day. From this kernel, Kang and his scripters have gone to town, furnishing an elaborate backstory as predictable as it is preposterous.
We’re in Korea under Japanese occupation: Tatsuo Hasegawa (Joe Odagiri) and Kim Jun-shik (Jang Dong-gun) have known each other since childhood, but Tatsuo is part of the overlord class and Jun-shik just one of the oppressed servants. Both are champion runners (those expecting “Chariots of Fire” moments will get them in spades).
The Japanese are presented as sadistic fanatics who make Klingons seem lax on questions of honor. Jun-shik is pressed into their army (echoing a scene in “Taegukgi,” but with greater brutality here), where a “Bansai!”-screaming Tatsuo is the vindictive colonel. Jun-shik proves his stamina and bravery but, like the others, is captured by Soviet troops and sent to a POW camp in Siberia.
Frostbite and merciless Soviet commanders make their lives hell until they’re forced to don Russian uniforms in a suicide mission against the Nazis. Jun-shik and Tatsuo are the sole survivors, so they cross Matterhorn-sized mountains to reach German territory, where they’re separated, reuniting three years later on the beaches of Normandy.
Kang inserts the first battle scene 25 minutes in, and thereafter keeps the action sequences going at machine-gun pace. Bodies are crushed under tanks, ripped apart by bullets, shoved into crematoriums, suspended from gibbets. The war scenes, heavily indebted to a host of genre classics, are an indiscriminate mass of loud explosions and splattered blood, lensed with shaky handheld cameras to further emphasize battlefield confusion and accompanied by a chorus fed on Carl Orff.
Fan Bingbing makes a brief appearance as a vengeful Chinese prisoner, but otherwise this is a strictly testosterone-pumped affair. While Odagiri’s largely one-note perf is dictated by the script, Jang’s lack of range negates any emotional attachment. Side characters are introduced and quickly killed off to generate sympathy, and oddly, everyone seems to understand all foreign languages except German.
D.p. Lee Mo-gae (“I Saw the Devil”) delivers sweep without demonstrating a distinctive style, largely because the entire film is so derivative. Soundtrack has enough drumrolls, cymbal crashes and swollen string sections to induce queasiness, topped off by Andrea Bocelli singing the schmaltzy theme song, “To Find My Way.” Latvian locales stand in for Normandy and London.