Hollywood is full of films about the Vietnam war and the Second World War, but very few films are about the Korean War. Brotherhood (also known as The Brotherhood of War internationally) is a Korean war movie directed by Je-gyu Kang of South Korea and won best movie and best director awards in 2005 at the Asia-Pacific film festival.
In 1950 the world was still recovering from the events of the Second World War and the atrocities that took place during this time. It had ended with the Japanese being bombed twice by the Americans as massive nuclear explosions devastated the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It was a war which left Korea divided as the North became allied with the People's Republic of China and Soviet Union in an embrace of communism. The South however did not share their views and formed the Republic of Korea as the Americans and Soviets divided the country into two once WW2 had ended.
As Brotherhood starts we see a group of archaeologists excavating a battle site in South Korea and they contact an elderly man, Jin-Seok thinking they had found the remains of Jin-seok, but the elderly man is insistent they must be the remains of his brother, Jin-Tae Lee. We then see a flashback to June 1950 where Jin-tae is shining shoes to earn money so that Jin-Seok can go to school. Jin-Tae's life might not seem much, but he has his fiancée Young-Shin and a friend, Yong-Seok helping him. They have one last happy day in Seoul before war comes to their home and they are conscripted against their will into the South Korean military to help fight off the invading North Koreans. Jin-Tae vows to get Jin-seok back home and to school no matter what the cost. When the fighting starts it is revealed that Jin-Seok has a weak heart as he suffers a near-fatal heart attack during the fighting but is saved by Jin-Tae. Once the battle ends Jin-Tae goes to see the commander of the forces there that he wants his brother sent home and they come up with a deal whereby if Jin-Tae is awarded a medal for his actions Jin-Seok will be sent home.
When the next battle comes Jin-Tae demonstrates his determination by volunteering for the mission and managing to secure an enemy gun placement. When he gets back to camp Jin-Seok confronts him and is told by Jin-Tae that he is doing this for him, but Jin-Seok doesn't want him - he wants them both to live even if means they have to continue fighting.
The Americans, under the authorisation of the UN then turn up in South Korea to help force the invading North Koreans out and it is during this first joint offensive that Jin-Tae captures an enemy commander in Pyongyang but at the cost of one of his friend's lives who he had ignored at the time. Jin-Seok is starting to realise that Jin-Tae has changed and he's no longer the man he once was, his obsession with glory has driven him over the edge. When they later come across Yong-Seok who was forcibly conscripted into the North Korean army Jin-Tae is disgusted with him and calls him a communist traitor. When he kills him later along with other prisoners it is the final straw for Jin-Seok.
The Chinese help reinforce the North Korean forces and they start to force the joint UN / South Korean forces back. On their way back to Seoul Jin-Tae is awarded the medal he desired and no longer has time for Jin-Seok or for seeing his family in Seoul. Whilst in Seoul Jin-Seouk meets up with Young-Shin to see how their family is doing, but whilst there she is taken by the military after she is accused of being a Communist. She is brought in front of a firing squad and Jin-Tae joins Jin-Seouk to try and save Young-Shin but they fail and are accused of being Communist sympathisers themselves. They are dragged off and imprisoned whilst Jin-Tae is reprimanded for the shame he's brought upon the army - whilst there the buildings suffer an airstrike and Jin-Tae believes Jin-Seouk has died in the devastation. Before being captured by the Chinese Jin-Tae first kills the person who had held him prisoner.
We learn Jin-Seouk did survive (which of course we already knew because this is his flashback after all) and was brought to a hospital to recover from a gunshot wound he sustained in escaping the burning building during the airstrike. Whilst there he is given a letter from one of the other people there, a letter written by Jin-Tae to their family and it's enough to make Jin-Seouk change his mind about him and decides to go after him. In the meantime though, Jin-Tae has taken control of the Chinese Flag unit and when they meet in combat he no longer recognises Jin-Seouk and they fight. Eventually Jin-Tae sees past his rage and his grief and he realises it is Jin-Seouk and protects his brother's escape but is sprayed with bullets in the process. Jin-Seouk never sees his brother again until it's back in the present day and he's seeing the bones of his long-dead brother. Not being able to take the news that his brother died that day he breaks down and sobs that his brother promised him.
The style of story telling certainly isn't a new one, but it being about the Korean war is what makes it fresh as does the incredible cinematography and story telling. Some of the battle sequences are simply amazing to watch and by the end of the film you feel sorry for Jin-seok as he looks down on the remains of Jin-Tae. I think that's more what this movie is about, not what war is like, but what happens to family who fight alongside each other and against each other during times of conflict. I think anyone who enjoyed the HBO series Band of Brothers is likely to also enjoy this movie, though it should be warned that this film is entirely in Korean with English subtitles (the best way to watch it!).