In 2005, the film Tae Guk Gi, set a new standard for films based on the Korean War. The film director Kang Je-Gyu before this film was best known from the South Korean blockbuster Shiri, which broke all of the box office records in South Korea. Only to be later surpassed by this wonderful film on based on the Korean War in the 1950’s. (Kang) Tae Guk Gi, is about two brothers living in South Korea at the same time when North Korea invaded South Korea. The story follows these two brothers as they get drafted into the South Korean army, and their experiences to make it out alive. The oldest, Jin-tae Lee becomes very protective over his younger brother Jin-seok Lee, so much so that he begins to take on the most risky missions in hopes to be rewarded in such a way, that his younger brother Jin-seok Lee would be released from his duties and sent home. This is what drives the story, along with the conflict that younger brother Jin-seok Lee has to deal. Which is the fact that Jin-tae Lee is risking his life every time he goes on one of these dangerous missions. This leads to a constant battle between brothers, throughout the film. It was done masterfully, and the care that was put into the family early in film makes every intense moments between the brothers, even more meaningful later in the film.(Tae Guk Gi)
The American film that resonates the best with this great South Korean film is Saving Private Ryan, from the director that gave us Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Jurassic Park, none other than Steven Spielberg in 1998. Spielberg is perhaps Hollywood’s best known directors, and one of its most successful ones at that. He grew up in a Jewish family in Cincinnati, Ohio. Where his early influence were from his father, who was a veteran of World War II. Spielberg began directing war films with his father’s camera, this would later lead to much more polished works such as Schindler’s list which was about the holocaust, and this film, Saving Private Ryan which was also about World War II.(Spielberg) Saving Private Ryan is truly a World War II epic, where you follow a small group of Army Ranger who are on a mission to bring back a missing paratrooper named James Ryan. The reason his story is so unique is the fact that he is the only remaining brother that has survived D-Day, his three other brothers were killed in action all within a day of each other. Private Ryan’s mother receives all three letters on the same day, and shortly after that is when the group is formed to find Private Ryan, and bring him home.(Saving Private Ryan)
These two films share a lot of similarities, even though they are about two different wars. The first is the stylistic similarities. Second, is that these two films are very realistic showing blood, guts, and dismemberment. Third, is there use of brotherhood, and there interactions with each other. This shows that the connection between these two films lies much deeper than the fact they are both war films.
When someone talks about the style of a film it’s often good to compare its style with another film similar to it. In this case, these two films have many stylistic similarities. One example, is the way these two films, shoot a lot of their scenes using hand held cameras. This is a style in the way they capture the action of the film. While in the trenches, the characters fight right down in them in the film, Tae Guk Gi, the camera is down in the trenches with them. Also, many of the tracking shots while they were in the fields were done using the technique of using hand held cameras.(Tae Guk Gi) This camera work is quickly noticed in Saving Private Ryan as well. When they landed on the beaches of Normandy the camera was very shaking for a couple different reasons. First, they used a shaker lens on the camera to give it the same effect as if someone was holding the camera. Then they also used the held camera for added effect, to make it more of a personal experience for the audience. This was mainly used to give off the more realistic feel. (Saving Private Ryan) Another stylistic similarity would be their use of flashbacks. Both of these films start in the present, and the stories are told from the use of flashbacks or one long continuous flashback. Tae Guk Gi uses the flashback technique a couple of times as to show the progress of the film, in the present you are met with the younger brother as an old man. In these flashbacks he is remembering his older brother Jin-tae Lee. Then in Saving Private Ryan, the film starts off with James Ryan when he’s an old man at the grave site remembering Captain Miller. But the one major difference in the way they use flashbacks is how it relates with the present. In Tae Guk Gi, you are with the older man numerous times throughout the film while he’s in the present time remembering his brother. Whereas in Saving Private Ryan, you only see the Private Ryan as an old man in the beginning and at the end of the film. (Tae Guk Gi) (Saving Private Ryan) These two films display many stylistic similarities such as the use of hand held cameras and the use of flashbacks. Even though there are similarities in the use of flashbacks, they use them slightly in different ways. One as to push the story further, and the other as an opening and ending.
To even go into more depth on the stylistic similarities both of these films won many awards for their use of cinematography. Tae Guk Gi, won the Blue Dragon award and Grand Bell award for its cinematography. (Kang) Likewise, Saving Private Ryan won five Oscars; one of them included the best cinematography award. (Spielberg) Both of these films have outstanding cinematography and were greatly rewarded for it. One of most noticeable similarities in there cinematography is how personal the camera gets with the characters. Even in the dirty and gritty environment, they both took a lot of care to capture all the small details of the war. Like, all of the injuries, arguments, and personal moments that each of the characters encounter throughout the two films.
In the Film, Tae Guk Gi one of the major themes throughout the film was the use of realistic combat. Realistic combat was shown in many different ways such as hand to hand combat, the use of rifles, and artillery. With the use of all of these different combat elements they were very realistic. As to show dismemberment, blood, guts, loss of hearing, and in a lot of cases death. With the use of this sort of realism it really drives home that war is nothing to take lightly. Many people have fallen victim to the harsh reality of war and that we should remember what the men and women did to protect their way of life and ours today.(Tae Guk Gi) This is even more expanded upon in Saving Private Ryan. Where the realistic feel of the film, could be mistaking at points as a documentary film. Where you the audience often feel very attached to the characters in the story, and when something goes terribly wrong to one of them there is this strong emotional connection to feel a deepened sadness towards the character. The warfare in Saving Private Ryan is very similar to Tae Guk Gi, where is shows a lot of the same blood and guts.(Saving Private Ryan) Which leads to a very realistic film, of course it’s fake in both films, but they have a very realistic look and feel to them.
The one major theme you will find in most war films is the connection or bonds between solders, another way to state it is there brotherhood between each other. These two films treat is slightly different but the meanings behind the brotherhoods found in these films are strikingly similar. In Tae Guk Gi, the brotherhood is between two actual brothers and the bond they share. This brotherhood is crafted early in the film, to show the brotherly love for each other, so to make later scenes when they begin to fight one another even more powerful. One moment that stands out, is when the two brothers meet each in the crowded town early in the film. They are both jumping up and down, excited to be reunited once again, because the younger brother Jin-seok Lee went away for school. You really notice this brotherhood even more when older brother Jin-tae Lee buys Jin-seok Lee ice cream with the last of his money. These types of interactions show the loving and caring brotherhood among the two brothers.(Tae Guk Gi) Whereas in Saving Private Ryan, its more about the brotherhood of the group of Army rangers and that the strong bond they have for one another. We don’t notice this strong brotherhood bond until Private Caparzo played by Vin diesel is shot and killed by a sniper. Once he’s shot them all go into recovery mode to help their fellow soldier. It was at this moment that there brotherhood was strengthen and fully visible throughout the rest of the film. It took a tragedy, like the death of a fellow soldier to bring these men even closer. So, the moment when Private Ryan is told that he’s going home, because he is the only remaining son his mother has. He says he won’t leave the men he is with because they are the only brothers he has left. Meaning, these men that are in his company have formed a brotherhood amongst themselves, and he doesn’t want to leave them while they are in need. He also, goes on to tell Captain Miller, to tell his mother that these are the closes people he has to brothers now, and he won’t leave them. (Saving Private Ryan) The similarities in the brotherhoods in these two films show that strong bond between brothers or even a group of soldiers share. It’s this brotherhood where they will do anything for each other.
Now, that I mentioned the similarities. I want to go over one of the biggest differences between the films. It’s the culture itself. Asian countries have a high context society, which means one must be able to read between the lines, understand nonverbal messages, and understand that the words change meanings depending on the situation. High context countries are less verbal, and often give off a cloudy meaning. Whereas in the United States, we are a low context society. We like to use straight talk, expressing it verbally and directly, what we say is what we mean. Also, situations don’t change the meaning of words, which means we are very clear when we communicate. (Beer) This is why most American films will often be led by dialogue, where a lot of Asian films tend to use more nonverbal messages in their films. In Tae Guk Gi, we notice this high context society by the way the story is told. There is more dialogue in this film than in most Asian films, but it’s not the driving force as it is in American films. You notice the film is driven by short messages and often nonverbal messages. (Tae Guk Gi) Unlike, Saving Private Ryan, where dialogue plays a major role in driving the story along. Everything must be approved by Captain Miller, before they could move on to their next checkpoint. (Saving Private Ryan) There are many stories told, by the soldiers in Saving Private Ryan, where in Tae Guk Gi, there was only a few times when the soldiers would tell stories. These two war films share a lot of similarities, but there biggest difference is there culture.
In conclusion, Tae Guk Gi and Saving Private Ryan come from two different cultures one high context and the other low context, but share quite a bit of similarities. They both have stylistic similarities in the way the films were shot, show war in the most realistic of ways, and strong brotherhoods are formed between the characters in the films.
Beer, Jennifer. “High and Low Context.” 1997. Culture-at-work.com. 2003. 19, April 2010. <http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html>
Kang, Je-Gyu. “Je-Gyu Kang.” 2010. Imdb.com. 1990. 19, April 2010. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0437625/>
Saving Private Ryan. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perfs. Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Berry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi, and Jeremy Davies. 1998. DVD. Paramount Pictures. 1999.
Spielberg, Steven. “Steven Spielberg.” 2010. Wikipedia.com. 1999. 19, April 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Spielberg>
Tau Guk Gi, Dir. Je-Gyu Kang. Perfs. Dong-gun Jang, Din Won. 2004. DVD. Sony Pictures. 2005.