Je-gyu Kang

On a hillside overlooking the beaches of Normandy, American soldiers surround a Korean and a Japanese man wearing Nazi uniforms. This is the second-most intriguing image of Mai-wei, the WWII epic from writer/director Je-gyu Kang. What’s even more fascinating is that the image is drawn directly from real life. How they got there (and into Hitler’s army no less) is a story told while trudging through the freezing mountains of Russia and the hot open plains of Korea. It’s an enormous movie, told through a decade as two competitive marathon runners – Jun-shik Kim (Dong-gun Jang) and Tatsuo Hasegawa (Jo Odagiri) – begin as alienated enemies and become friends through the brittle evolution of battle. Certainly its most striking achievements are the extended, highly-choreographed war scenes that steal the breath right out of your lungs. The visual style is an angrier version of Saving Private Ryan, but instead of beginning with Normandy, Mai-wei ends with it, and instead of having a few huge battles, Mai-wei has a solid half-dozen. Make no mistake; it’s a movie that slams your head into the wall without giving you a helmet.

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