Sunday, 16 September 2012

Flim Dissection: Pop: Brotherhood Taegukgi (SPOILERS)

Film - 태극기 휘날리며 (Taegukgi Hwinallimyo / Brotherhood Taegukgi)

Our Classification: Action War
Language: Korean
Rating: 10/10
Notable Actors:  

Choi Min-Sik (Oh Dae Su from Oldboy, Baek Han-sang in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Kang Tae-shik in Crying Fist)

The Story

Lee Jin Tae and Lee Jin Seok are forcibly drafted by the South Korean army to fight against the invading North Koreans. Jin Tae is told that if he gets a medal he can send his brother back home to look after his mother and so he starts taking as many risks as possible to see if he can earn his brother his freedom. 

Jin Tae’s reckless behaviour starts to put other people in danger, even leading to the death of a friend but he is determined to keep his promise to his mother and get Jin Seok home safely. For his capture of an important member of the North Koreans he is told he will be awarded a medal but Jin Seok is horrified at how he’s been acting and their relationship begins to fall apart. 

When they find an ex-village friend who has been captured by the communists, the relationship gets even more strained as Jin Seok has to step in to stop Jin Tae shooting all the unarmed hostages, including the friend. 

The North Koreans force the South Koreans to retreat slightly and on the way the brothers get the opportunity to briefly check on their family. Jin Seok finds Jin Tae’s fiancé but is quickly captured by anti-communist activists who claim she is a communist and he must be too for supporting her. He escapes from his captors and rushes to save his future sister-in-law, quickly aided by Jin Tae when he catches up but in the struggle to get her freed she is shot and killed. 

Jin Tae goes to his new commanding officer to ask for his brother’s freedom now he has his medal but he refuses because of the problem with the anti-communist activists. Jin Seok is being held as a prisoner of war and when the camp gets bombed the commander orders the prison to be burned to the ground purely out of spite against Jin Tae. Jin Tae, presuming that his brother has burned to death, catches up with the commander as he is led away by the North Koreans and smashes his head in with a stone. 

Jin-Seok was rescued before the fire took hold and is in a hospital camp. He is told that his brother has joined the communists and quickly decides to go back to war and help bring him home despite the fact that he will be discharged in a matter of weeks. 

When he finds him, Jin-Tae has been brainwashed by the communists and can’t remember his brother at all. They fight until Jin-Tae is stabbed in the side by another South Korean soldier and finally as Jin-Seok tries to carry him away he realises that it is actually his brother who’s holding him. Jin-Tae promises to come home but urges Jin-Seok to run before the communists kill him. When he does, Jin-Tae grabs a machine gun and turns it on the North Koreans, firing until they manage to kill him.


When ideologies clash, the winner tends to be the one with the best propaganda. If the leaders of a group can encourage suspicion within their members and a distrust of anything out of the ordinary, then they can more easily convince them that it is okay to get rid of the other side. Communism scares people because in its true form it is a good idea and while the theoretical element of it is good for swaying intelligent people, the masses are then converted by its amazing ability to control the people. This allows it to spread like a plague, infecting countries surrounding the established communist countries. But as this film shows so well, the people who fight under the communist banner are just people too, people who happen to believe in something different. 

As much as Western propaganda would like to make us believe it is so, communism isn’t unique in its ability to brainwash citizens. Brainwashing, whether mild or strong, is a necessity for an ideology to continue. That doesn’t make it an automatically bad thing and it doesn’t mean that we’ve all been put in a room and shown pretty lights and fast moving images. What it means is that we are controlled, something even those of the lowest intelligence are aware of. Human beings require a collective reality to integrate with each other and this requires a collective belief system. Where beliefs alter, groups can only ever exist in an uneasy truce. Take the Western world and the Middle East, peace would never last. As much as I don’t believe in war, there is no way that the American ideology and the Islamic way can live in harmony with each other because there are always going to be areas of difference and that doesn’t fit with the human way of existence. Philosophical thinking aside, if we can’t both agree that table in front of us exists, how are we ever going to trust each other enough to decide the more important matters like how people should live. Ideas are only compatible when they are the same, no matter how long the peace between them seems to last. 

War between beliefs may be inevitable, but we should not let that trick us into thinking that when we point the gun at the communist, we are being a moral warrior. Of course in that moment, when fighting for their country, the soldier has to be convinced that the person is a monster. Both soldiers have to be convinced of that, with the winner being the one who has soldiers more convinced about the cause. But the rest of us have to remember that there is no moral high-ground when you’re blowing a person’s head off. Those communists have families, they pat their dog on the head when they get home and they pin their children’s pictures up on the wall no matter how rubbish they are. 

Another interesting element of this film is that the ‘bad guys,’ so to speak, are shown not to be the communists that they are fighting, but rather the South Koreans themselves. Their lives are torn apart by their own people, not the guys in red. Fear and suspicion is how the leaders of ideologies prevent their people from being swayed to the other side, how they keep them occupied. If the country is being torn apart and ravaged by war, then people will always be scared. In order to maintain control without any effort, effective propaganda is required in order to keep that fear directed and focussed. This is why during most wars, people become busied with suspecting their next door neighbour rather than caring too much about the planes flying overhead and why the average American will still rugby tackle a suspected communist to the ground just in case they laser the nearest child-filled school with their heat ray. It is a sign of a very effective propaganda machine.

During the film, villagers are slapped with the label communist and immediately taken to be shot without trial despite the fact that they are South Korean and have tried to ignore all the political tensions between the two countries. Nothing more than that one word communist is needed because their fear and anguish has been directed into fear of that one tiny word. Enough power has been placed upon it that they will raise a gun without question once it has been applied. It sounds barbaric but to protect an ideology it is as necessary as the protection of that ideology seems in the first place and applies to milder situations than everyone versus the reds or the Nazis or Islamic extremists. Take for example if I tell you that table isn’t there. If everyone else can see the table would I be accepted for simply having a different belief? Or would I be labelled as potentially insane and shot with the proverbial gun, leaving me to rot in a psychiatric hospital until they can make me see the table? 

He never did make his brother those shoes. 

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