An exploration of the human condition and a hard-hitting anti-war film to boot. In many ways it’s a kind of fable that reminded me of the famous Christmas truce during WW1 where British and German troops stopped hostilities for a day to stage a football match.

This film takes us on an interesting journey. Although it is a comedy for most parts of the movie, keep in mind there are some dramatic war scenes. The story shows 3 North and 2 South Korean soldiers stuck in the same desolated village, along with an American pilot Smith. We witness the slow genesis of their relations, from hatred to deep respect. But the war is near, and so the heroes must take some steps which will… well, you really have to see this awesome anti-war movie which makes you laugh, weep, sigh and above all, hate this awful war. This is a must see! It can be just as emotional as it is funny.  This is a classical South Korean war film at its best with mesmerizing views of Korean nature, deep symbolism, brutal honest war scenes, and excellent cast performance. 2 hours of the film flew like a minute, so great and impeccable its delivery was. Huge Hurrah must go to the film director Park Kwang-hyun for his breathtaking work, as he showed us a decent valiant epic drama which leaves no one bland.

Watching the movie is like putting your emotions on a roller coaster. This movie “blends goofy comedy, war drama, tragedy, action and social commentary for a highly entertaining ride.”Excellent on every level. “Engaging and beautiful cinema.One of the most heartwarming and heartbreaking films I’ve seen, Dongmakgol combines innocent comedy and stunning cinematography to subtly show Koreans how peaceful their country used to be.

Shows the stupidity of war and the magic of life

In September 1950, during the Korean War, a U.S. Navy pilot named Neil Smith (Steve Taschler) is caught in a mysterious storm of butterflies and crash-lands his plane in a remote and mountainous part of Korea. He is found by villagers from the nearby mountain village of Dongmakgol, who nurse him back to health. Dongmakgol is cut off from the outside world – its inhabitants have no knowledge of modern technology and are blissfully unaware of the massive conflict raging across Korea. Smith hands a Korean-English primer to Teacher Kim (Jo Deok-hyeon), the village scholar, in an effort to communicate, but Mr Kim effectively gives up when Smith begins a barrage of complaints after being asked in English, “How are you?” as an introductory greeting.

Meanwhile, not far from the village, a platoon of North Korean soldiers is ambushed by a South Korean unit, and the ensuing skirmish leaves most of the North Koreans dead. The surviving North Korean soldiers manage to escape through a mountain passage. The North Korean soldiers, Rhee Soo-hwa (Jung Jae-young), Jang Young-hee (Im Ha-ryong), and Seo Taek-gi (Ryu Deok-hwan) are found by an absent-minded girl from Dongmakgol, named Yeo-il (Kang Hye-jung). She leads them to the village where, to the North Koreans’ alarm, they find two South Korean soldiers, Pyo Hyun-chul (Shin Ha-kyun) and Moon Sang-sang (Seo Jae-kyung). The South Korean soldiers, both of whom had deserted their units and escaped into the mountains, had also been led to Dongmakgol by another villager.

The unexpected encounter triggers a Mexican standoff that lasts until the next day. Initially, the villagers are rounded up between the North and South Koreans, but having no idea what the fuss is about they slowly drift away to go about their own business (despite some of the soldiers’ efforts to intimidate them into submission). The villagers, who are unfamiliar with the soldiers’ weapons, continue to watch on the sidelines and wonder why the two sides are waving “sticks” and “painted potatoes” at each other (which are actually rifles and grenades, respectively). In fact, Yeo-il gleefully pulls out the pin from Taek-gi’s grenade (mistaking it for a ring), sending the soldiers into further panic.

The confrontation ends only when Taek-gi, worn by fatigue, accidentally drops his now-armed grenade. While everyone else ducks for cover, Hyun-chul heroically throws himself onto the grenade, but it does not explode. Believing it to be a dud, he throws the grenade behind him in contempt, and it rolls into the village storehouse. It then explodes, incinerating the village’s stockpile of corn for the winter. The remnants fall down from the sky, surrealistically, as popcorn.

The two groups of Korean soldiers are now forced to face the fact that their quarrel has condemned the village to starvation in the upcoming winter. They reluctantly agree to a truce and divert their efforts to making up for the damage they have caused. Together, the soldiers undertake work across the village, and help harvest potatoes in the fields.

They even work together to kill one of the wild boars troubling the village. The villagers then bury the boar, much to the annoyance of the soldiers (who wanted to eat it). Both the North and South Korean soldiers and Smith sneak out separately at night to dig up the boar and eat it, leading to an unplanned meal together. The mood is awkward at first, but the tension between the soldiers lessens as they share the meal with each other. However, even afterwards, members of both sides remain haunted by the memories of the terrible things they have experienced during the war.

While this is happening, Allied commanders, having lost several other planes in the area, prepare a rescue team to recover Smith, who they mistakenly believe has been captured by enemy units and is being held at a hidden mountain base. The plan is to secure Smith and evacuate him from the area, with a bomber unit flying in after Smith’s extraction to destroy the anti-aircraft guns they presume are located in the base.

The rescue team, led by their commander (David Joseph Anselmo), drops in by parachute at night. They suffer heavy casualties after being swarmed by a torrent of butterflies in the air, with further casualties from the rough terrain. Meanwhile, the villagers and soldiers are holding a harvest feast. The rescue team enter the village, and, assuming it is a cover for an enemy base, begin roughing up toward the villagers. Despite the efforts of the villagers to conceal the Korean soldiers by disguising them as villagers, a firefight breaks out in which all but one of the members of the rescue team are killed, and Yeo-il is fatally wounded in the crossfire. The only survivor of the rescue team, the Korean translator, is hit over the head by Smith and is captured by the villagers.

Through the translator, the people in the village find out about the bombing plan. The North and South Korean soldiers realize that the village is in peril and that there is no time for Smith to make it back to his base to stop the bombing. They decide that the only possible way to save the village is to create a decoy “enemy base” away from the village, using equipment salvaged from another plane that went down nearby. They plan to engage the unit only far as is necessary to divert it and have it bomb the “base” instead of Dongmakgol, with the soldiers fleeing to safety.

Smith is sent back along with the translator so that he can tell the Americans that there is nothing in the village to bomb, in case they decide to send more bombers. Meanwhile, while preparing to engage the planes passing over, Taek-gi encourages the group and quips that they, being a joint North-South troop, are “Allies” too. The decoy is successful, but Young-hee and Sang-sang are killed during the initial engagement. In the end, the remaining Korean soldiers are wiped out by a blanket of bombs – however, they die smiling, knowing that Dongmakgol has been saved.

Smith breaks down in tears on the way to his base upon hearing the bombs in the distance, suspecting that the Korean soldiers have sacrificed themselves. After the bombing, at the site of the destroyed decoy base, butterflies apparate where the Korean soldiers died, which then join the swarm fluttering overhead.

An Anti-War Film In A Different Kind Of Way

Jae-yeong Jeong as Chief Comrade Lee Su-Hwa
Shin Ha-kyun as 2nd Lt. Pyo Hyun-Chul
Kang Hye-jeong as Yeo-il

Movie Information

Directed by Park Kwang-hyun
Cinematography Choi Sang-ho
Edited by Steve M. Choe
Music by Joe Hisaishi
Distributed by Showbox
Release date August 4, 2005
Running time 133 minutes
Country South Korea
Language Korean

Peter Ahn

Peter Ahn

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