Friday, 5 May 2017

My Way: A film about the 1930s and 1940s by Kang Je-Kyu

During one of my periodic trawls through the cheap foreign DVDs on sale in the ASDA outlet store in Dartford, I came across a film entitled MY WAY which had an intriguing cover illustration ... what were two obviously East Asian men in Wehrmacht uniforms! As it was only £3.00 I bought it, and now that I have had a chance to watch it, the tale it tells was even more implausible than I imagined it would be ... even though it is based on a true story!

The story is based on the life of a Korean man named Yang Kyoungjong, who was captured by Americans troops on D-Day. It transpired that he had been forcibly conscripted into the Japanese Imperial Army (Korea was under Japanese control at the time), had fought against the Russians in China during the Nomonhan Incident, where he had been captured. Whilst in a forced labour camp, he was then 'recruited' into the Red Army to fight the Germans after their invasion of Russia in 1941. He was captured by the Germans during the Third Battle of Kharkov, and like a lot of former Red Army soldiers he changed sides again and became a member of an Eastern Battalion serving in the Wehrmacht in Normandy. He was captured by American paratroops on the Cotentin Peninsula on D-Day, and eventually sent to a POW camp in the United States. When he was released he remained in the US, and settled in Illinois. He died there in 1992.

Yang Kyoungjong at the time of his capture on D-Day.
The film has two main heroes, both of whom are marathon runners. One is Korean – Kim Jun-shik – and the other is Japanese – Tatsuo Hasegawa – and from an early age they are deadly rivals. Matters come to a head when Kim Jun-shik wins the run-offs for a place in the Japanese Olympic team, only to be disqualified so that Tatsuo Hasegawa – who came second – can be awarded the victory and the team place. In the ensuing riot a whole group of Korean young men, including Kim Jun-shik, are arrested and forcibly recruited into the Imperial Japanese Army and sent to China.

The Koreans are treated as second-class soldiers by the Japanese they serve with, and are subjected to all sorts of punishments for perceived indiscipline. Their regiment is unable to stem a Russian advance during the Nomonhan Incident, and their Colonel is given no choice other than to commit to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) by his replacement, Tatsuo Hasegawa.

The Imperial Japanese Army falls back in the face of a Russian tank-led attack.
Tatsuo Hasegawa then begin to prepare to attack the Russians, and chooses a number of the Koreans to take part in a suicide mission to destroy Russian tanks. When Kim Jun-shik refuses to 'volunteer' he is beated up and his execution for mutiny is ordered. With the help of some of his fellow Koreans, he escapes, but when he sees that the Russians are mounting a massive surprise attack he returns to warn his fellow soldiers. Despite suicidal attacks on the advancing Russian tanks, the Imperial Japanese troops – including Kim Jun-shik and Tatsuo Hasegawa – are either killed or captured.

The Imperial Japanese Army's attempts to stop Russian tanks with waves of suicide bombers are doomed to failure.
Whilst in a Russian forced labour camp the two men continue to fight each other, and this culminates in a riot, as a result of which they are both sentenced to be shot. They are only saved by the arrival of a group of NKVD troops who have orders to forcibly 'recruit' the prisoners into the Red Army. They are all sent to fight the Germans, and in scenes very reminiscent of those in the early part of ENEMY AT THE GATES, they make human wave attacks on German defensive positions whilst an NKVD blocking detachment shoots down anyone who falls back or fails to charge.

Kim Jun-shik rescues Tatsuo Hasegawa, who has been injured during the fighting, and they both try to escape to German territory. Whilst trying to get help, Kim Jun-shik is captured and it seems that Tatsuo Hasegawa is found and after being treated for his injuries, he is recruited into a Wehrmacht Eastern Battalion. By chance the two men meet again in Normandy, and a friendship develops between them. They plan to try to escape, but before they can the D-Day invasion begins. Both manage to get away from their compatriots, but during their escape Kim Jun-shik is mortally wounded and forces Tatsuo Hasegawa to take his dog-tags to make sure that the American will not kill him if they find out that he is Japanese.

The film ends with Tatsuo Hasegawa running in the marathon at the 1948 London Olympics ... as Kim Jun-shik.

There are a lot of battle scenes in this film, some of them more believable than others. The Russian BT Tanks are quite convincing mock-ups (they have too many wheels and look as if the chassis used were probably based on obsolete American tanks) but the battle scenes they appear in are more than a little unbelievable. The same is not so true of the fighting depicted on the Eastern Front – which looks very gritty and brutal – and some of the D-Day scenes use a quite reasonable mix of CGI and live action.

Not a great film, and the real story it is based on is – in my opinion – would have made a better film, but for £3.00 I don't feel that my money was wasted and it occupied an afternoon when the weather was bad and I didn't feel in the mood to do anything other than watch TV.


  1. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction! Is the dialog in English?

    1. William Stewart,

      The dialog seems to be in Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and German. Luckily the film has subtitles!

      All the best,