60th Anniversary: Remembering 'The Forgotten War' Through Film -- Part 1

Hopefully my two-cents about the films in this five-part series will help if you are looking for a way to honor those veterans, living and dead, who deserve to be remembered today, June 25th, the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. Perhaps it is time Hollywood revisit the subject of this war anew. The question is, would anyone pay to see such films today?

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Regardless, I wish to extend my gratitude to all those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who served in the Korean War. Please know that your memory does live on … in our hearts if not in our theatres.

Below is the only film in this series produced within the last four decades, and that it is not from Hollywood but rather Korea itself underscores the meaning of “the forgotten war.” It may be forgotten to the American people, but as Tae Guk Gi: Brotherhood Of War aptly reveals, it is still very much a part of the Korean psyche.

Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood Of War (2004): Seen through the melancholy eyes of an aged South Korean army veteran Jin-seok Lee, the story is one large flashback that begins profiling Jin-seok’s once happy and industrious family living in Seoul on the eve of war. The Brotherhood Of War follows two very dissimilar brothers in the family, Jin-tae Lee, the quick-fisted, street-smart older brother played with riveting power by Dong-gun Jang, and a teen-aged Jin-seok, the younger, frailer more bookish of the two played with equal conviction by Bin Won. Though they are quite different, their affection for each other runs very deep.

The story takes us through them being roughly commandeered off the street into military service after the Northern attack and follows their horrifying experiences in the see-saw fighting all the way through to the end. In that time, unknown to his kid brother, Jin-tae has made a pact with his commander to take on the most dangerous of missions if in return Jin-seok will be spared them. He sees his younger brother as his family’s best hope and is willing to sacrifice his own life to save that future.

As the war progresses, however, the dangerous missions bring Jin-tae fame as a war hero. Jin-seok’s resentment grows as he feels his brother relishes the glory even as friends die around them. He eventually disowns him when he discovers the deal Jin-tae made as he is racked with survivor’s guilt. Tragically, through a series of confusing events in the fog of war, Jin-tae comes to think his brother was murdered by a South Korean officer and thus switches allegiance to fight for the North. Jin-seok must now accept his brother is a traitor.

When they meet again face-to-face, this time it is as enemy combatants…Will their love overpower their duties as soldiers to fight? A deep-seeded divide that engulfed an entire nation is aptly symbolized by these two brothers’ last desperate battle against each other.

It seems appropriate that one of the best Korean War films ever made comes from South Korea itself. Who better to tell the story of what was to them a horrific civil war that literally pitted family members against one another. Director Je-gyu Kang provides the viewer with vivid and brutally graphic combat scenes in the manner of Saving Private Ryan and HBO’s The Pacific.

It also is an important film in that it examines the war from the Korean vantage point and drives home to the movie-goer just how calamitous an experience it was for these still-divided people.

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