Growing up, Sunday afternoons were reserved by my Dad for movies featuring John Wayne or Henry Fonda going off to fight some battle. Fine pieces of American cinema showing stories from our past. One week it might be The Longest Day, the next week might be The Green Berets. The era changed, but the faces remained the same. More recently movies like Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan have entered the rotation, adding some modern spice to the mix. But honestly, some of the greatest war movies of the last decade weren’t in English at all. As I sit here in my pajamas carrying on that tradition (watching My Darling Clementine this week, for those interested) I thought it might be fun to tell you about my four favorite foreign war films from the last decade.
We start not too far from familiar territory. The Korean war was one in which the United States not only armed our favored side but also actively participated. It was one of the first “proxy” wars with the Soviet Union, kicking off only a few years after the end of WWII. Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (Wikipedia — IMFDB) is a film produced in South Korea in 2004 that follows the story of two brothers who were pressed into service defending their country against the Soviet backed North Koreans. The vast majority of the firearms are familiar to American moviegoers — the South Korean Army uniforms and firearms are 100% Made in the U.S.A., so much so that it almost looks like a WWII movie. The special effects are amazing, with some of the scenes rivaling Saving Private Ryan for the level of detail, realism and size.
In my opinion the best part about this movie isn’t the amazing action sequences, it’s the storyline.The United States hasn’t seen an occupying force on our soil since 1865, and given how quickly war has changed since then even those experiences are no longer sufficient to understand what the South Korean people felt when their countries were invaded. And while some of us still remember what the draft was like the circumstances were so drastically different from the South Korean conscription. Seeing how families were torn apart during that period and how homes were destroyed is what makes this movie one of my favorites.
The next film on my list is from mainland China, 2007. The same team that produced The Brotherhood of War (but with a new director) produced a film called Assembly (Wikipedia — IMFDB) based on events within the Chinese Civil War. It was the first movie on that subject produced in a “realistic style” due to the censorship of the Communist Party of prior films. Produced in mainland China the film can arguably be called Chinese propaganda, but the message of the film is one of honor and duty and doesn’t seem to take sides about the cause or ideas behind the Chinese Civil War, and focuses only on the soldiers and their humanity. Part of the movie takes place during the Korean War, with the main character fighting for the North Korean Army. It’s a nice counterpoint to The Brotherhood of War, which was from the South Korean perspective.
I like this movie mainly for the special effects, but there’s one scene that always sticks out at me. When the main character is in Korea and about to be discovered by a U.S. Army patrol a more experienced soldier advises him to simply end words with “da” and the Americans won’t know the difference. Funny, but true.
Number 3 on my list is a more modern film about a more modern war, one which we’ve recently taken over from the original owners. The 9th Company (Wikipedia — IMFDB) is a 2005 Russian film about a Soviet unit in Afghanistan. It follows them through training, the first days of deployment, and finally a famous battle on Hill 3234 where 39 soldiers defended their position against 200 heavily armed attackers. In the end almost every single soldier was either killed or wounded, but the hill was held.
This movie makes it into my favorites not only for the smokin’ hot Russian chick (she does help…) but for the sheer bad-assery of the Soviet soldiers. The photography in this movie is frankly amazing, in the same vein as Black Hawk Down with the warm colors and the high contrast.
The last film for today is easily my favorite. Released in 2010, The Brest Fortress (Wikipedia) is the story of how 7,000 Soviet soldiers held their ground against 17,000 well equipped Nazi troops longer than expected at a fortress in Poland starting on the opening day of Operation Barbarossa. The soldiers held out for eight days even as the Nazi army advanced beyond them, refusing to give up.
This is another movie that illustrates how insanely bad-ass Soviet soldiers are, but one set in a time period that I’m very, VERY familiar with. I know how those uniforms feel, how the tactics are supposed to work, and how much it sucks to reload a Mosin Nagant under pressure. Watching the movie I could feel and smell and taste every moment, and that’s what brought it alive for me and makes it my current favorite war film of all time.
Gotta go, Henry Fonda looks pissed. This is gunna get good…