The Korea Herald


[History through films] ‘Taegukgi,’ a tearful story of two brothers in battle that divided Korea

By Kim Da-sol

Published : Feb. 14, 2024 - 17:07

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“Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” (Showbox) “Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” (Showbox)

Director Kang Je-gyu’s 2004 war action film “Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” follows a simple storyline that revolves around two brothers – Jin-tae (Jang Dong-gun) and Jin-seok (Won Bin) -- who are drafted to the South Korean Army to fight in the Korean War that broke out on June 25, 1950.

The brutal and inhumane conditions on the battlefield leave little room for thinking about the implications of the war.

Jin-tae, the eldest son in the family, is the breadwinner and runs a shoeshine stand. He is a young man with hopes to marry his fiancee Young-shin (Lee Eun-ju) and to pay for his younger brother Jin-seok’s education when he and his younger brother are drafted.

On the battlefield, Jin-tae hears that if he can earn the highest military merit as a South Korean soldier, his brother who suffers a heart disease can be sent home. He volunteers to participate in various missions, including some life-threatening acts. He is quickly promoted to sergeant, but Jin-seok is horrified to see his older brother’s ruthless killings.

“Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” (Showbox) “Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” (Showbox)

Meanwhile in Seoul, the UN coalition is forced to retreat as the Chinese army enters the war to support North Korea. Young-shin, suspected of working for the Communist Party, is captured by the South Korean military and shot dead. The two brothers, trying to rescue Young-shin, are arrested.

Jin-seok, who barely escapes the scene, learns that Jin-tae has defected to the North Koreans and has become an elite lieutenant in the North Korean army. Hoping to bring him back to who he was, Jin-seok chooses to rejoin the army and demands to be allowed to fight at the 38th parallel. The two dramatically reunite on the battlefield but Jin-tae, who has been captured by fury and a sense of betrayal after losing his fiancee and brother, doesn’t notice Jin-seok and even tries to kill him.

Fifty years later, Jin-seok looks back on the battle days after getting a call that the remains of war veterans have been discovered.

“Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” (Showbox) “Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” (Showbox)

When the movie opened in 2004, “Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” quickly reached 10 million admissions, appealing to the audience with the universal topic of brotherhood. Film critics also praised the movie for dealing with the tragic Korean history from the brothers’ point of view.

The movie gave director Kang the best film and the best director award that year at the 50th Asia Pacific Film Festival.

In addition to its record-breaking reception in South Korea, the film also gained critical acclaim abroad for its unflinching portrayal of war as well as the brutality of both the North and South Korean military.

“Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” is currently available via local streaming platforms such as Waave.

The following article is the first installment of the eight-part series that looks into Korea’s modern and contemporary history through films released between 2000 and 2020. -- Ed.

“Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” (Showbox) “Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War” (Showbox)