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Film / Taegukgi

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Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War is a 2003 film from South Korea, directed by Je-kyu Kang, telling the story of two brothers caught up in The Korean War.

Lee Jin-tae (Jang Dong-gun) and Lee Jin-seok (Won Bin) are brothers who live with their mother in the family noodle shop in Seoul. Jin-tae has a side business with a shoe-shine stand, and is working to send his bookish younger brother Jin-seok to college. Jin-tae is also engaged to pretty Young-shin, who works at the noodle shop. This happy life is ruined on June 25, 1950, when North Koreans with Nodongs invade South Korea, starting the Korean War. Jin-seok is forcibly conscripted into the South Korean army, and when his brother tries to pull him off the train, Jin-tae is conscripted too. An officer promises Jin-tae that if he can win the Order of Military Merit, South Korea's highest military decoration, he can get a discharge for his brother. Jin-tae then begins to seek out the most dangerous missions in order to win that medal, but his pursuit of glory alienates his unsuspecting little brother.


Taegukgi is one of the few feature films set in the Korean War. It became one of the biggest hits in the history of South Korean film. The title is a reference to the "taegukgi", the South Korean flag.


  • An Arm and a Leg: A soldier loses his leg when the unit is ambushed. Jin-seok's buddy later loses an arm.
  • Anyone Can Die: We know from the get go that Jin-seok survived the war. However, Jin-tae, Young-shin, Yong-man, Yong-seok and many more aren't so lucky.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Everything Jin-tae does is to get his brother out of the army. When he thinks Jin-seok is dead at first, he snaps.
  • Camera Abuse: Blood spatters the camera during the climactic battle.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Young-shin says offhandedly that she attended a political meeting because they were giving away free food. It was a communist party meeting. She's executed by the South Koreans.
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  • Cold War : Entire Korean War fall under this trope as North Korea and South Korea became a proxy war for Communist Countries (USSR and China) and America respectively.
  • Damsel in Distress: Young-shin is captured by anti-communist South Korean militia and is about to be executed before Jin-tae and Jin-seok rescue her... sadly, it doesn't end well for her.
  • Darkest Hour: When the soldiers in the Lees' unit are besieged in the Pusan perimeter, frightened and starving.
  • Decisive Battle: The Battle of Pyongyang. If Jin-tae captures the enemy captain, he can send his brother home.
  • Decoy Protagonist: At first the movie follows Jin-tae, but after his girlfriend is executed by South Korean militia, and erroneously thinking his brother was also killed by South Koreans that prompts him goes over to the North before dying too, the movie follows the brother Jin-seok instead.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Young-shin dies in Jin-tae's arms.
  • Driven to Suicide: One of the soldiers in the Pusan perimeter cracks, shoots up the hospital, and then kills himself.
  • Elite Mooks: The North Korean Red Flag units, which turnss the tide of the battle into their favour. Jin-tae is their leader.
  • Epic Film: On par in its sense of scale when compared to series such as The Pacific.
  • Eye Scream: When infiltrating a North Korean base, Jin-tae pushes his fingers into a North Korean soldier's eyes.
  • Face–Heel Turn: After his girlfriend is executed by South Korean militia, and after erroneously thinking his brother was also killed by South Koreans which would have made his efforts to send him home safe and sound for nothing, Jin-tae goes over to the North.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Played amazingly straight. Yong-man shows his comrades his family photo, and in the next scene is killed in the battle of Pyongyang.
  • Framing Device: The story opens with an elderly Lee Jin-seok being informed that a body has been found and identified as him. Then the action shifts back to June 1950.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: In order to fight the communist threat and reacting to communist atrocities, the South Korean military dipped down to this level, committing atrocities of their own. Jin-tae's Big Brother Instinct also corrupted him in battle as he regularly partook in such atrocities.
  • Headbutt of Love: Between the brothers when they say goodbye for the last time.
  • Hero Antagonist: At some notable occasions the South Korean military acted as this towards the leading brothers and mostly got the upper hand over them, whether it is to forcibly conscript them within the ranks, the militia trying stop them for trying to interfere with their execution of communist collaborators by rescuing Young-shin and finally the prison commander ordering the cells destroyed with Jin-seok inside. All of this culminated in Jin-tae defecting to the North due to his and his friends' and family's mistreatment and eventual deaths, except Jin-seok who actually lived, at the hands of the South Koreans.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Jin-tae mans a heavy machine gun to give Jin-seok, and the fleeing South Korean army, time to escape.
  • Hope Spot: November 1950, when the South Koreans have conquered almost all of the North, and it seems the war is almost over. Then the Chinese come over the border.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The North and South Koreans really aren't that different from each other when it comes to atrocities, particularly massacres of combatants and non-combatants.
  • Inspector Javert: The South Korean militia towards the innocent communist collaborators.
  • Jitter Cam: Many times during the combat scenes.
  • Jump Scare: Several times throughout the movie with sudden gunshots and explosions as North Koreans attack the South Korean soldiers.
  • Kill the Cutie: Young-shin.
  • Knight Templar: The South Korean militia.
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: Jin-tae.
  • Last Stand: Jin-tae buys time for Jin-seok to escape by gunning down as much communist soldiers as he can before he kicks the bucket.
  • Man on Fire: Seen as the men in the Lees' unit are bombarded outside of Pusan.
  • Mexican Standoff: Happens when some of the North Korean prisoners take hostages as the unit is retreating from the Chinese assault. It ends badly.
  • Morality Pet: Young-shin and Jin-seok are this for Jin-tae as even though he is gradually becoming a Sociopathic Soldier as a result of He Who Fights Monsters, the former two are the reason why has not started Jumping Off the Slippery Slope as anchors for his sanity and morals. When Young-shin is executed and Jin-seok is thought to have been burned to death, Jin-tae defects to the North and becomes their personal killing machine of an Ax-Crazy Sociopathic Soldier as a result.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Jin-soek sports a deeply traumatized and shocked expression when he witnesses Jin-tae gleefully join in the rounding up and gunning down of unarmed North Korean soldiers.
  • The Neidermeyer: The South Korean military characters are portrayed as this, whether when they forcibly conscript the brothers for the war effort to the militia mercilessly executing communist civilians in cold blood to the warden who jailed the brothers to order the cells with Jin-seok inside to be destroyed against Jin-tae's wishes.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Jin-seok accuses Jin-tae of this when Jin-tae is about to execute a group of North Korean prisoners that includes one of their old friends. Within the film itself, both sides are shown to be willing to commit terrible massacres.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: The South Korean soldiers come across the aftermath of a terrible massacre of villagers, both young and old, by the North Koreans. It gets worse after the South Koreans discover that certain bodies are booby-trapped, leaving two of their men critically injured. The South Koreans, especially Jin-tae, respond with a Roaring Rampage of Revenge up to the Chinese border, viciously killing every North Korean soldier they find, even if they're begging for their lives and trying to surrender.
  • Pet the Dog: In the middle of the South Korean reprisal, Jin-soek finds himself aiming his rifle at a hysterical North Korean, who begs him to not pull the trigger. Jin-soek fires over the man's head, hitting a wall as the North Korean sobs in relief.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Deconstructed viciously when Jin-tae's battalion attack a North Korean stronghold and kill every communist soldier they can find, in revenge for the village massacre. While the South Koreans' rage is perfectly justified, it's pretty clear they've become just as bad as their enemies. The communists are trying to surrender while being butchered, and it's unclear if they're even the ones who slaughtered the village in the first place. It all comes across as a manifestation of the fraticidal brutality unique to civil wars.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Jin-tae.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Jin-seok's reaction in the present-day scene where he's informed that a body from the war has been tentatively identified as him.
  • Straight for the Commander: Jin-tae ignores the order to push back the North Koreans across Pyongyang and instead chases after the enemy captain. This inadvertently leads to Yong-man's death.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Jin-tae gradually goes from being a Nice Guy to a broken soldier after witnessing and partaking in so much horror during the war. By the time Jin-Soek meets him again, Jin-tae has turned into a psychotic killing machine for the North Koreans, who fights because he enjoys taking lives.
  • Suicide Mission: Jin-seok's lone attempt to rescue Jin-tae in the film's climax. Quite extraordinary when considering that he goes in unarmed.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Most of Jin-tae's story is foretold by his brother Lee Jin-seok.
  • Tragedy: An entire family is torn apart by Jin-tae's arrogance and subsequent descent into madness. There isn't even a single moment of legitimate comedy to break the tension.
  • Urban Warfare: The brutal Battle of Pyongyang is one of the film's major set pieces.
  • War Is Hell: The Korean War was like any other.
  • War Memorial: The film begins here, in the present day.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Jin-tae, who became a North Korean berserker after the death of his girlfriend and thinking his brother died too at the hands of his own former Southern allies.


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