Many films are saved in the editing room, but how many are ruined there? With an average shot length of something like 0.04 seconds, Kang Je-kyu’s war story, My Way, was clearly torpedoed by overzealous slicing and dicing, and what might have been a competent blockbuster is now borderline unwatchable. No, really: It’s literally difficult to keep your eyes fixed on the screen for even five minutes without feeling nauseous. That it clocks in at just under two-and-a-half hours makes it a veritable endurance test. The film’s press kit boasts that the film’s DP, Lee Mo-gae, utilized “five different cameras and ten different shooting techniques,” which is to say four cameras and nine techniques more than was really necessary. My Way is a traditional WWII epic inexplicably reimagined as chaos cinema, like Neveldine/Taylor taking on the Pacific Front. It’s the most expensive South Korean film production of all time, and, to paraphrase the old adage, you can see the money being bandied about needlessly right up there on screen. This film looks expensive, but it also looks terrible.
Occasionally it looks bad in a way that’s narrowly satisfying: In the midst of a manic, F/X-powered battle sequence you might get an insert of a soldier shot and spiraling to the ground with a body cam fixed to his helmet, which looks very cool in a way that war movies probably shouldn’t, given that an audience gets sort of uncomfortable hooting about splatter. Had My Way followed this impulse through to its logical conclusion (and had it been leaner, faster, and lighter on melodrama), it might have made a tidy little exploitation flick, since at times it ditches tact so deftly. But instead it heads in the other direction, hamming up the human drama and making national pride its de facto agenda.
Which makes it like any other WWI blockbuster, except for the novel perspective of South Koreans forced to fight for the occupying Japanese army, who are portrayed as ruthless, weak-willed, and just generally evil. Even the Nazi soldiers in this film come off as likeable and well-meaning (hey, they’re just following orders!), while the Japanese soldiers all seem to want to be there and all seem to want to hate and be cruel to the Koreans. Except for the most ruthless Japanese soldier of them all, one of the film’s two leads; he happens to enjoy long-distance running and is therefore allowed to be humanized and, ultimately, to be redeemed. The dozens of nameless soldiers he kills mercilessly over the course of the film, of course, we don’t need to worry about. I guess they didn’t have hobbies.