Mai Wei (My Way) (2011)
Director: Je-kyu Kang.
Starring: Dong-gun Jang (Jun-shik Kim), Jô Odagiri (Tatsuo Hasegawa), Bingbing Fan (Shirai), In-kwon Kim (Lee Jong-dae), Seung-hyeon Han, Jin-seok Yang, Ji-han Do, Hee-won Kim, Yeon-hee Lee, Ji-woong Wi, Jong-yeol Jeong, Ho-yeon Lee, Michael Arnold (Father).
Korean soldiers are forced to serve in Japan's armed forces to fight the Russians
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
"An Asian man wearing a German uniform was discovered by the U.S. military at Normandy on D-Day, 1945. Upon questioning, he was identified as a Korean. Korea was under Japanese occupation during World War II and many Koreans were forced into the Japanese army and sent to the frontlines against China and the Soviet Union. This film is based on true events."
London, England, Olympic Marathon Race. Contestant number 265,Jun-shik Kim, from Korea is running in a marathon. He makes his way up to the leading group of runners. This surprises the announcer who says an unknown runner, the Korean seemed to come out of nowhere to join the lead runners.
Flashback.Korea under Japanese Occupation. Tatsuo Hasegawa from Japan is brought to Korea by his father. As they drive along in city traffic, he sees a boy running along the side the car. It's the Korean lad Jun-shik Kim. He picks up the pace and soon is leading the car to the mansion house.
Jun shik's father works as a servant at the mansion house. Tatsuo's grandfather is right there to greet his son and his family. Tatsuo runs to his grandfather and gives him a big hug. Grandfather says that Tastsuo already looks like a Grand Imperial soldier.
Jun shik and his sister are now brought up to meet Tatsuo and his family. Tatsuo's father tells Jun shik that Tatsuo is a good runner too. His sister speaks up and says: "My brother's the best runner in Kyung-sung." Tatsuo shoots back with: "Well, I'm the best in Tokyo. A country boy like you could never beat me." So the boys decide to have a race. The boys are almost neck to neck.
The scene switches to a race where a grown Tatsuo and Jun shik are again neck to neck. At the end Jun-shik Kim beats Hasegawa in the 4th high school marathon.
In another match-up Tatsuo beats Jun-shik. Grandfather has a grand celebration to honor Tatsuo's win. Jun shik has to serve drinks to the guests.
Jun Shik's father receives a package for the grandfather. He takes it to grandfather saying it's a gift from the Japanese Minister of Defense. Grandfather gives the box to Tatsuo to open. When the box is opened, grandfather recognizes it as a bomb. He grabs the box while telling everyone to get away. He falls on the box which now explodes. Grandfather saved a lot of people that day, but at the expense of his life.
Tutsuo and his father run over to grandfather. When Tatsuo sees Jun Shik's father, he figures that Jun Shik's dad is the bomber. He grabs the "bomber" and starts shaking him saying that he killed his grandfather so now he will have to just bring him back. Jun Shik intervenes and pushes Tatsuo back saying that his father did not kill anyone. Jun Shik's father is now taken to prison.
Jun Shik and his family have to move out of the mansion. Tatsuo puts a Japanese sword in Shik's face saying: "Don't you dare show your face around here again or I might kill you."
Jun Shik carries his badly beaten father on his back as his sister tags along with them. There's a big celebration going on for Korea's hero, Ki-jung Sohn, who won an Olympic gold medal.
To make some money and keep in shape, Jun Shik pulls a rickshaw.
May 1938, Kyung-sung, Korea. Jun Shik pulls a rickshaw with a man who asks him if he is a marathon runner?
Tutsuo speaks with the press. He says: "Korea's luck in the marathon stops with Ki-jung Sohn. You can mark my words. Print it in all of your papers. A Korean man will never be an Olympic victor again."
Jun-shik's curious rider says that the Koreans are banned from the Olympics because of the incident where Sohn covered the Japanese flag. The fellow offers Jun-shik triple his fare if he can get him to his destination in twenty minutes. Jun-shik takes of running.
Tutsuo tells the press that his plan is to win the gold medal and set a new record while doing it.
Just missing many accidents, Jun-shik reaches the rider's destination in the time allotted. The rider gets out of the rickshaw, pays triples his fare and says: "Opportunities come to those who don't give up, Jun-shik Kim."
Coming down the set of steps leading up to a large building, a friend of Jun-shik, Jong dae, recognizes the rider's face as that of Ki-jung Sohn. Ki-jung goes into the building to tell the Japanese Olympic committee that it is not right to forbid Koreans on the Japanese teams because that means Korea is totally kept out of the Olympics.
An acceptance letter comes from the Berlin Medical University for Tutsuo, but he tells his father that marathon running is more more important to him than his studies. He also wants to join the Japanese military and fight for the Japanese Empire.
Jun shik's sister tells him that the picture of her is missing from its frame in her room. Jun shik turns to asks Jong dae about the missing picture. Jong dae acts very innocent. He later gives the sister a hair pin.
Ki-jung Sohn walks up to Jun-shik and gives him an Olympic Trials entrance form. Ki-jung tells Jun-shik: "Please win and bring hope to Korea again."
The marathon tryouts begin. The Japanese are putting in the race a fellow named Kimura with instructions to knock Jun-shik down. Tatsuo rounds the bend and is ahead followed by Kimura. But Jun-shik Kim is not all that far behind them.
Kimura tries to knock Juhn-shik down, but the Korean marathoner keeps side-stepping away from him. It's Kimura that falls down. Jun-shik wins the race.
Jun-shik is treated like a national hero. But when the results are read the winner is Tatsuo Hasegawa. Second is Kimura. The Korean spectators start getting very angry. Jun-shik rushes up to the head official and starts telling him off. The judge gets very angry and tells Jun-shik that he was disqualified for blocking Kimura's way. Jujn-shik grabs the judge by the collar and pulls him out of his seat. At this time the guards start beating Jun-shik with their batons.
Jun-shik is knocked down the steps all the way to the ground. Jong dae runs up the stairs and knocks one of the guards down, but then Jong dae is knocked down and he rolls all the way to the ground. Now the Koreans start attacking the guards, so it becomes a big brawl. Tatsuo just remains calm.
The court rules that all those involved in the riots will become Imperial Japanese soldiers and swear allegiance to the Emperor.
And now Jun-shik and Jong dae are Japanese Imperial soldiers headed out on the train to the front lines.
July 1939, Nomonhan, Mongolian Borderland. [In the summer of 1939 the Soviet and Mongolian armies defeated Japanese forces that had invaded eastern Mongolia at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol.]
The Japanese foot soldiers are up against a massive number of Russian tanks equipped with machine guns. Jong dae saves the life of Jun-shik by bayoneting a Russian soldier trying to run through Jun-shik's body with his bayonet.
The order is given for the Japanese to retreat.
The Japanese look down on the Koreans. From atop a platform a Japanese sergeant yells at them calling them "lazy Korean fools". Jong dae tells Jun-shik that he wishes the sergeant would get killed. And less than a second later the sergeant is killed by a sniper's bullet.
Jun-shik is able to pinpoint the location of the sniper. He tells Jong dae to cover him and he runs forward just barely escaping the bullets of the sniper. He throws a grenade at the spot and then charges into a small building. Jun-shik gets into hand-to-hand combat with the sniper until he realizes that the sniper is a girl. He and the guys take the girl as their prisoner. The Japanese torture the sniper girl until an officer stops the torture.
Arriving on the scene is Colonel Tatsuo Hasegawa. He is the new replacement for Colonel Takakura. Takakura is demoted to private for ordering a retreat, but that is not all. He is to commit seppuku (ritualized disembowelment). All the men stand at attention while Private Takakura takes the knife and thrusts it into his left side and drags the knife over to the right side of his body.
After the suicide, Tatsuo gets on top of the car hood and announce that he has come here to demolish Soviet tanks. He reminds the men that Imperial soldiers don't leave the battlefield until they are dead. "We either win or we die."
The Japanese decide to build a pontoon bridge over Khalkhin River within 48 hours. There will be a special unit of suicide tank demolishers.
Tatsuo watches as Jun-shik does his long distance running.
Jun-shik walks over to the underground cage that the Chinese female sniper inhabits. He brings her the photo of her family that the men ripped apart as they were fighting over who would be the first to see the photo. The woman tells him thank you.
The Koreans in Squad 9 are still getting a lot of abuse as they help build the pontoon bridge. "Damn slow Korean dogs!" Tatuso arrives to see the degradation of the Koreans. Later he insults Squad 9 and it's members, criticizing them for little infractions of the rules, such as running long distances during sleeping hours. "Do you all think this is some kind of playground?" He bends down and picks up Jun-shik's running shoes, throws them in the throwaway pile and says that all these items must be and will be incinerated.
After the colonel leaves, Jun-shik decides to save his shoes no matter what happens. He is kicked, one of his hands is stepped on, gets kicked in the face and his back is stomped on. Jun-shik knocks the sergeant out of his way, but when he gets out of the tent, he is slammed in the face with a rifle butt. He can't save his shoes.
Tatsuo rides his horse over the pontoon bridge. There is a screw lose in one of the sections of the bridge. The Japanese sergeant shows the Koreans that he has the missing screw in his hand. He tosses the screw into the river.
Tatsuo finds the loose section and has Squad 9 step forward. He tells the soldiers that they will hold the faulty plank on their heads and return to base before sundown. The sergeant rides on top of the plank as the Koreans carry the plank back to base.
Back in regular formation, Tatsuo has the Koreans step forward again. He says these men will be part of a suicide mission to demolish Soviet tanks. Jun-shik speaks out saying he is not going to take part in this plan. He tells Tatsuo: "The Korean soldiers and I didn't volunteer and by not doing so we cannot consent to any mission that by its very definition demands that we give our lives for it."
Tatsuo takes a rifle and hits Jun-shik in the chest repeatedly until he collapses. Then the colonel gives the order to shoot Jun-shik along with the other POWs before they move out tomorrow. Jun-shik is thrown into the cell with the Chinese female sniper. The woman tells Jun-shik that: "The Japanese are evil. Korea and China are foolish." She says she's mad because she couldn't kill more of those Japanese monsters.
The Korean soldiers release Jun-shik and the woman from their cage. Jun-shik tells the men to pull out Shirai first.
The group starts running south to the river. There Jun-shik sees the enemy heading toward the Japanese base. He decides to run back and warn the base. In a boat the other escapees are to head down stream on the river.
A Japanese plane spots Jun-shik running and comes after him. The escapee manages to survive unhurt the first strafing, but he is wounded in the left arm on the second strafing. The plane comes around for the third strafing when Shirai arrives with a rifle. She takes aim at the plane and hits it in a vulnerable spot. Shirai is shot at least twice, but the plane goes down and explodes upon impact.
Jun-shik runs over to her. She tells him to hurry and warn his friends. She dies. Meanwhile the Russian tanks are crossing the river.
Jun-shik reaches the Japanese army headed out to do battle with the Soviet tanks. He yells that it's an attack. Actually, the Japanese cannot see the oncoming attack because of a high ridge in front of them.
Tatsuo prepares to shoot Jun-shik down when the tanks come rolling up and over the ridge. The colonel forgets Jun-shik and demands that the trucks be put up front as a first line of defense against the tanks.
Behind the trucks come the suicide bombers. Jun-shik is knocked out cold by the concussion from a shell hitting near him.
With barrels of gasoline strapped to their fronts, the trucks are used for suicide demolitions of the tanks. The men drive the trucks right into the tanks and on impact the trucks and the tanks catch on fire.
The suicide bombers now jump between the wheels of the tanks and explode the satchels when the tanks are right over them. Some of the suicide bombers are shot down by the machine guns.
Tatsuo destroys quite a few tanks himself, but does not kill himself in the process. Jun-shik wakes up and tries to save his friend Min-woo. The Japanese sergeant that has been harassing the Koreans tries to stop Jun-shik, but the Korean knocks him down and straps a suicide satchel around his neck, shouting: "You go and die bravely."
Min-Woo is hit and he can't see. Jun-shik rushes over to him and tries to pull him away from an oncoming tank. The tank, however, rolls right over Min-woo's legs. Min-woo dies.
Tatsuo is hit by shrapnel from a tank shell. He gets his bloodied body up to fight some more, but now sees a new wave of tanks headed for the Japanese. Some of the Japanese soldiers start to run away, so Tatsuo starts shooting them with his pistol. He shouts: "Imperial soldiers don't retreat!"
Jun-shik sees this. He also sees Tatsuo knocked down by a retreating soldier. As Tatsuo gets up again, Jun-shik hits him in the face knocking him down. He says to Tatsuo: "Maniac! You want to get everyone killed? If you want to die, do it alone because we are not going to die like frigging dogs." Jun-shik demands that Tatsuo order the retreat, but Tatsuo is saved by one of his officers who knocks Jun-shik off Tatsuo.
Tatsuo grabs a suicide satchel and then grabs Jun-shik saying that now Jun-Shik will have his chance to die like an Imperial soldier. He walks Jun-shik toward an oncoming tanks, but the tank explodes a shell underneath the two men throwing them many feet up into the air.
The Koreans and Japanese are POWs being transferred on a train to Kungursk. One of the men dies of his wounds while in a box-car and his body is thrown out of the car.
February 1940, Kungursk, Soviet Union Prisoner of War camp. The POWs are forced to say that they are not POWs, but rather criminals who started the war, and they are to repay their debts to the Soviet Union by dedicated labor and reform.
The camp commander tells the POWs that their leader, Hasegawa Tatsuo, must step on the Japanese flag. Tatsuo starts giving a resistance speech to his men telling them to keep their dignity until they return home. He picks up the flag, drapes it over his shoulders and continues to harangue his men. That is, until the Soviet soldiers beat him down with the butts of their rifles.
Tatsuo is tied down with ropes and then is suspended in the air over a large beam. The Russians incinerate the bodies of the dead soldiers.
At the camp Jun-shik is united with a few of his Korean buddies. He asks them where is Jong dae? The men says that Jong dae is somewhere around the area.
Jun-shik can't believe his eyes when he sees that Jong dae now works for the Soviets and his Soviet name is Anton. He tells his work leaders to each grab 20 POW newcomers and start them working.
Jun-shik calls out to Jong dae. Both men run to each other. Jong dae says he has been in the camp for two months and adds: "I rule here."
The old sergeant comes up to Jong dae, calling him a Korean dog. At first, Jong dae starts acting submissive, but then strikes the sergeant asking him: "Call me a Korean dog? You're the dog." He grabs a thick piece of wood cut from a tree and starts striking the Japanese fellow over and over again. Jong dae says here he is the colonel and the king. He says to the beaten sergeant: "You got that, Jap?"
At night the real colonel is dropped off in the POW barracks. Jong dae sits down in front of the barrack's stove. Friends of the colonel ask him permission to set the colonel down by the stove, otherwise he will die. Jong dae says he doesn't care. The man isn't even worth stomping on. Jong dae gets up and leaves taking Jun-shik with him.
Jong dae and Jun-shik drink some liquor from a bottle. The camp king says that he really misses Eun-oo, Jun-shik's sister.
When the men in the barracks are eating, Tatsuo yells at his men to stand up. Jun-shik tells his men not to stand up. Tatsuoi comes over and demands that Jun-shik stand up. The prisoner stands up, but only to say the following to the colonel: "We are no longer your subordinates. We were unjustly dragged and forced to become Imperial soldiers. As the Soviets can't demand reform, you have no right to force us to bow down to your beloved Emperor." He also says he is not Private Kim but the Korean marathoner Jun-shik Kim.
Tatsuo calls Jun-shik crazy and asks if the man wants to die here? His adversary shoots back with: "You're the crazy one who killed hundreds of soldiers! I was there. I saw it happen. Maybe you should fall on your sword like Colonel Takakura." Tatsuo hits Jun-shik twice and this starts a little riot in the barracks.
The Soviet camp commander laughs at a Korean and a Japanese prisoner trying to kill each other. He drops his knife with the blade sticking into the floor. He says: "Fight to the death!"
The fight starts. It's back and forth until Jun-shik becomes the victor. He raises the knife to kill Tatsuo, but hesitates and drives the knife blade into the floor board under him. So, now both men are tied up around the waist and are hanging by their ropes tossed around a large beam.
The news of the day is that Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The Soviets may want to exchange POWs with Japan and they might get a chance to go home.
The Soviet commander says it is time for frost-bite examination. One of the Koreans has a badly frost-bitten foot. The commander finds him and gives the order to take him out of the barracks. The fellow says he doesn't want to die. He can still work. But the man is dragged over to the incinerators. Jun-shik tries to stop this, but his own men hold him back.
Jong dae and another man have been send to find Choon-bok. They find him hiding and eating a piece of bread. As they start to remove him from his hiding place, the lights go on and Soviet guards descend on all three men. Jong dae and the other man says that this is the thief, Choon-bok. All three are taken to see the colonel.
Choon-bok is hanged for all the POWs to see. After the hanging Jun-shik scolds Jong dae for rat finking on the now dead prisoner. Jong dae tells Jun-shik that he is not the Jong dae that Jun-shik used to now. And from now on Jun-shik is to call him Anton! Jun-shik knocks the man down. Jong dae gets up to tell Jun-shik that he knows nothing about this. And if he repeats this scene in front of the men, he will have Jun-shik killed.
The camp commander informs Tatsuo that the POW exchange has been denied by the Japanese side. Tatsuo returns to the barracks. He looks out the door and sees Jun-shik running around the fenced in area.
While mistreating a prisoner, another prisoner tells Jong dae that they are doing the best that they can. So Jong dae starts beating the man with his thick piece of wood. The fellow falls down and rolls until he strikes his head on a tree trunk laying on the ground. Jong dae just tells the bastard to get back to work.
Now Tatsuo comes up and starts hitting Jong dae in the face. The tide turns and Jong dae starts beating the man with his thick stick. Jun-shik intervenes, but Jong dae knocks him down. He goes back to beating on the Japanese soldier. Jun-shik now knocks down Jong dae. The fight goes on until the rest of the POWs start to riot against their overseers.
The camp commanders starts the execution of the riot starters. The first five are shot dead. The next five are tied to the posts. Included in the group is Jun-shik. But this group is saved by the sounds of a siren and the arrival of trucks and jeeps. The commander is given an urgent telegraph message.
All the Japanese and Korean POWS now will fight for the Soviet Union against the Germans. All POWs now have to get into Soviet army uniforms. To speed up the changing of the uniforms, the guards start randomly shooting POWs in the head.
The camp commander tells Anton that he will be leading the attack on the Germans and he hopes that Anton will come back victorious. Anton uses the opportunity to ask for mercy on the five men tied up to be shot. His wish is granted and he hurries over to untie the five men. One of them men hesitates to put on the new uniform and is shot down. Then Tatsuo is told that this is his last chance to put on the Soviet uniform or he will be shot in the head. He and Jun-shik hurry to get into the Soviet uniforms.
December 1941, Zhedovsk, Soviet Union. The POWs in their Soviet uniforms are given rifles and sent up against the Germans. The Germans are behind a stone wall and the charging POWs don't stand a chance.
Some of the POWs drop down behind some cover and shoot from there. The camp commander uses a megaphone to tell the men there will be no retreat, charge. Now Tatsuo sees the futility of the situation and yet the men are still ordered to charge. Jong dae is shot down by a machine gun. Jun-shik holds his head up.
Tatsuo sees the camp commander shooting his men saying there is no retreat. In him, Tatsuo sees himself urging on men to their deaths for no good reason. The camp commander is shot and goes down.
Tatsuo sees Jun-shik stripping a dead German soldier of his uniform. Jun-shik tells him to do the same because they will need the uniforms and weapons to get over the mountains.
The two men get over the mountain range. They can see a town below them. They start to run down the last part of the slope. Tatsuo falls and Jun-shik sees that he's been badly wounded. He carries him down to the town and busts into a deserted home.
Now Jun-shiek runs to the down town area searching for first aid equipment. He sees the German army moving out and he tries to get help from them. None of them can understand what he's saying. The officer tells his men to take him away. They rough up Jun-shik who stills shouts out for Tatsuo and for help.
Three years later. There is talk among the non-Germans in the German army that the Allies may invade France at Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The guys are currently assigned to Normandy. One of the guys is none other than Tatsuo.
May 1944, Normandy, France. [D-day, June 6, 1944.] The non-Germans are building additional defense walls at Normandy. Tutsuo gets his bunk-bed. Later he eats lunch with his unit. He thinks he sees Jun-shik, but when he walks over to him, Tatsuo discovers it's not Jun-shik.
Tatsuo works on the beach fortifications. When the work day is over, Tatsuo on the ridge sees a runner running down along the beach. He races down the hill and jumps in front of Jun-shik. Both men smile. They walk along the beach. Jun-shik tells him that he may have to speak up because he was wounded in his right ear fighting the Germans and can't hear much of anything on the right side.
The guys decide to play soccer. Jun-shik and Tatsuo play on the same team.
The commander tells the men to pack up because tomorrow morning the unit will be heading for Calais where they expect an Allied invasion. At lunch Tatsuo tells his friend Karim that tomorrow at dawn he's heading out for Cherbourg. He is going to jump into the food truck which heads back at dawn. He is counting on Karim, who will be on guard duty, to look the other way.
Now Tatsuo goes to tell Jun-shik about heading for Cherbourg where a ship will take them home. Jun-shik wants to go.
The two guys get up early to make their escape. They hide so they are not discovered by two guards walking by. When the coast is clear Tatsuo calls out for Karim. No answer. So Tatsuo goes up the steps and calls for Karim there. He's there alright but he is totally transfixed by an armada of Allied planes flying overhead. He says he doesn't think that the planes are German.
And now the bombs start dropping on the fortifications. The two Asians are separated by fallen debris. Tatsuo looks out onto the English Channel and now sees an armada of ships headed toward them. The ships start firing on the fortifications.
Tatsuo looks for Jun-shik and finds him manning a machine gun. He grabs Jun-shik and tells him they have to get out of here. They start to leave, but a German officer grabs the two Asians and throws them back to man the two machine guns there. The Allies are arriving on shore. The officer leaves but locks the door behind him.
A lot of American soldiers are being shot in the water and on the beach. The guys try to break the door open, but it won't budge. They keep working on it. An American climbs up level to the window and tosses in a grenade. The two Asians just barely get out of the room before the hand grenade goes off.
The two fellows go outside, run through the trenches and then head up and out and run like hell. Jun-shik is wounded by shrapnel from a navy shell. The Allied parachutists start landing on the grounds behind the fortifications. Jun-shik is hit again by shrapnel and this time the blood just gushes out of him. He has time to hand over his identification medallion that says he is a Korean and not a Japanese soldier.
Jun-shik dies. Tatsuo holds him in his arms and yells out his name. Now the two are surrounded by American soldiers.
Back to the present.The Olympic marathon is being run in London. The surprise runner is actually Tatsuo Hasegawa, but he took on the identity of Jun-shik Kim. He is trying to win the race to honor the memory of Jun-shik.
There is a scene of the boys running against each other for the first time.
Here's a different take on the WWII. Japan occupies Korea and makes many Koreans fight in their army against the Soviets and the Chinese. When the Allies landed on Normandy on D-Day they were surprised to find two Korean soldiers fighting alongside the Germans. The Koreans are indeed a long ways from their native land. This inspired an author to write a story about two Asians, one being Korean and one being Japanese captured or killed at Normandy. Both men were marathon runners, which led the two fellows to being strong rivals with each other. The film tells the stories of the two rivals and their many trials and tribulations. The two men were involved in a lot of fierce battles. Nevertheless, they survived the battles. But how did the men get out to France? That's what the movie tells you.
One of the Chinese snipers says that the Japanese are just plain evil. And, indeed, they were at the time. They were extremely cruel to POWs and villagers. They engaged in rape, mayhem and murder in China. The Japanese were also very fanatical soldiers saying they would die in battle unless they are victorious in battle. This led to very high numbers of dead Japanese soldiers in various battles. It was only late in the war that more Japanese soldiers started surrendering to the enemy rather than fight to the death.
Dong-gun Jang (as Jun-shik Kim) and Jô Odagiri (as Tatsuo Hasegawa) were both good as the rival marathon runners.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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