December 11, 2012

My Way: A Man With a Story; A Man Without a Film

Yang Kyoungyjong led an interesting life to be sure. A Korean conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army at 18 years of age, he then became a Soviet prisoner of war forced to fight for the USSR's Red Army until his troop was defeated by the Germans who in turn enlisted him as a Wehrmacht soldier until the Americans overthrew the Nazis and he was imprisoned in a British POW camp under the mistaken belief that he was a Japanese soldier in German uniform. Eventually his actual identity was revealed and supposedly, he ended up living the rest of his days in the USA. A fascinating tale certainly worthy of a stunning biopic. Which brings us to Kang Je-kyu's My Way.

Unsatisfied with a tragic Everyman, Kang needlessly complicates this strange bit of history by transforming Yang, a John Doe of practically Brechtian proportions, into Kim Jun-shik (Jang Dong-gun), a destitute rickshaw-driver/closet-marathoner who is at once the rightful heir of real-life Olympian Sohn Kee-chung and a rival to Japanese long-distance runner Tatsuo Hasegawa (Jo Odagiri) who ends up being Kim's commanding officer in the Japanese Army, his fellow POW in Russia, and his best buddy in the German barracks (which apparently come equipped with a staff beautician: Everyone looks smashing!). Why Kang scraps Kim's one-of-a-kind biography for a bromantic parable about an oppressor who learns to love the man he once subjugated suggests a very different kind of racism: How else to interpret the angelic choir that accompanies representatives of Japan and Korea finally united in Nazi uniform while fleeing the American troops? Better An earlier chapter in the film finds Kim falling for Shirai (Fan Bingbing), a sexy Chinese sharpshooter so skilled she can take out a warplane with a single shot but once she's dead, his heart belongs only to Hasegawa. Eventually, his identity does, too. Somehow I bet Yang Kyoungjong would hate to see a movie that credited his life's final triumphs to a Japanese man pretending to be him. There's gotta be a better way, Kang Je-kyu.

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