Undeniably epic, Brotherhood is a second dip into the dark, vast pool of Korean cinema and an enjoyable enough experience it is too. As with all war films, you’ve got to ask where it sits in relation to Band of Brothers, Private Ryan and Days of Glory? The film aspires to this level of greatness, but somehow fails, with the end result something weirder and at times more interesting, but not always in a good way.
There’s a definite touch of reality on show here. Soldiers, civilians, children and animals are blasted with bullets, bombs and copious amounts of blood. The only people immune from the flying shrapnel are apparently the two brothers at the heart of the film. They walk through the battlefields seemingly invincible, like east Asian versions of Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now. It makes for a preposterous viewing experience and adds a sense of unreality that permeates the whole film.
And here lies the main problem with the film. On the one hand it attempts to illustrate the true horrors of war (and for the extras it certainly succeeds), but on the other hand there’s the epic almost supernatural tale of the two brothers that veers from over the top joyfulness usually only witnessed in musicals, to full scale anti-communist propaganda. It’s an odd mix of fairy tale, human drama and bloody conflict that almost never gels.
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of positives; the scale of some of the battle scenes is awe inspiring for starters. The acting of the two brothers (Jang Dong-Gun and Won Bin) is over the top, but never less than convincing, with younger brother Jin-seok displaying excellent character development as the film progresses. There’s moving scenes, especially when the anti-communist vigilantes grab Kim Young-shin, there’s dismay in the hospital scenes and complete abandonment in the finale. It’s enough to power you through the film without questioning the overarching oddness of the experience.
It’s not a great film, but it’s interesting and definitely different from the standard combat offerings. With low expectations and a pinch of salt it’s more than moderately entertaining and thought provoking. However be prepared for the ‘there’s something not quite right here’ feeling from beginning to end.4/10
If you like this you could also try:
Days of Glory, Assembly, My Way.