I was introduced to this film through a friend who told me that this movie is well-acclaimed and extremely touching. Although this movie is a bit old as it is produced in 2004, I think the story and the characters are still extremely interesting to watch and heartfelt. This was also not a cheap production film so the cinematography was pleasing to the eye and easy to watch. This war film takes place during the Korean War and it shows the hardships of the civilians, the struggles the soldiers had to face and endure, and the undying spirit of family as two brothers become pawns on the battlefield of death.
The movie starts off at an excavation site in 2003 as an excavation team dug up the remains of a Korean War soldier. Identifying the belongings of the unknown soldier, the team contacts an elderly man saying that they found remains that appear to be his despite him being alive. The old man goes down to see the remains of this soldier as he has been trying to look for his brother, whom he separated with on the battlefield. Upon visiting the site, the movie takes us back to 1950 Seoul as the Lee family's lives are about to be changed by the war.
The older brother Lee Jin Tae works at a shoeshine stand to pay for his younger brother Jin Seok's education. Jin Tae's fiancee Young Shin works with the Lee's noodle shop and watches out for his mother. They were very happy and Jin Tae even buys Jin Seok a silver pen to encourage him in his studies. However, on June 25, 1950, their lives are changed forever as North Korea invades South Korea. Jin Seok is forced to become a soldier and in an attempt to prevent Jin Seok from leaving, Jin Tae is also forcibly conscripted. Both brothers are a part of the first Infantry Division and they were to fight at the Busan perimeter and then advancing North.
Desperate to send his brother back home to safety, Jin Tae makes a deal with his commanding officer saying that if he can earn the highest award for a South Korean soldier (a merit award), his brother would have to be safely sent home from the battlefield. Thus, Jin Tae begins to volunteer for many dangerous and risky missions to be promoted and to earn his medal. He eventually is nominated for the medal but it came at a cost as well. The brothers began to feel a toll on their relationship because of their different views and the changes Jin Tae was going through. The entire time Jin Tae is trying to earn his medal, Jin Seok has been trying to get Jin Tae to give up on the goal and said that it should be that they both go home or both stay. Jin Seok is unable to view Jin Tae in a possible light as this goes on and finds that his brother seems to be stuck in the clouds of heroism and that he seems to be increasingly cold-blooded toward others after numerous heroic feats.
Jin Tae gets his medal but things don't go the way he expected them to. They were located at Seoul for the time being and they learned that his fiance was captured by South Korean militia who accused her of treason for joining the communist party. She tries to explain that they were forced to do so in order to be fed during the time they were occupied by the North Koreans. Jin Tae and Jin Seok try to save her but failed to do so and the two brothers were arrested to be further investigated. Jin Seok is locked up in a prison that was later set on fire which led to Jin Tae giving up on everything he was fighting for. He eventually joins the North Korean army.
Luckily, Jin Seok was not dead and was instead rescued by a fellow soldier. Upon finding out his brother joined the enemy side because of the losses Jin Tae experienced, Jin Seok joins to fight in the next battle by joining the North Korean side. He asks to meet his brother but Jin Tae refuses to come to see him, believing his brother was murdered in the prison fire. While the North Koreans take Jin Seok to be interrogated, their base is attacked by American and South Korean forces. Jin Seok takes advantage of the chaos by searching for his brother. However, Jin Tae has completely lost control of his consciousness and failed to recognize his own brother as he attempts to kill him. Jin Tae eventually was able to recognize his brother and the two shared a heartfelt moment. However, the moment was short lived as Jin Tae tells his brother to leave first and that he would soon follow. Jin Tae tries to buy time for his brother to escape by shooting a machine gun at charging soldiers. Jin Tae eventually dies on the spot and the two never reunited. Jin Seok spent years wondering what happened to his brother and if he was alive.
We go back to 2003 where the old Jin Seok is standing at the excavation site staring at the remains of Jin Tae. Examining the items and recognizing the silver pen Jin Tae once gifted him, Jin Seok begins to weep and demands to know why promises were not kept. He also blames himself for not bringing his brother with him to safety instead of listening to Jin Tae and leaving first. This movie was absolutely beautiful because it highlighted the horrors of war and the importance of family in good times and the bad times. I really enjoyed this movie and I recommend that everyone watch it as well. Amazing war film with amazing characters and a heart-wrenching plot.