For the people of the village, the newcomers are viewed simply as people "wearing a round gourd and holding long sticks" and who "look irritated a lot," because they have never seen a gun nor military helmet. When the soldiers explain war has broken out across the Korean Peninsula, the villages ask with surprise, "Who invaded? The Japanese or Chinese?"
This is an amusing prologue to a film that portrays the tragedy and absurdity of war.
The soldiers from the opposing sides initially confront each other with their weapons, but the warmheartedness and innocence of the villagers starts to open their minds and bring them together. When they later become aware of an Allied Forces plan to destroy the village in a bombing raid, the soldiers combine forces to defend and protect it.
Adapted from the popular play of the same title staged by movie director Jang Jin and with a soundtrack composed by Joe Hisaishi, renowned for the theme music for Japanese animation hits by Miyazaki Hayao such as "Howl's Moving Castle" and "Spirited Away," this film is packed with fun, energy and deeply touching moments.
Park, a veteran of television commercials, adds artistry, fantasy and imagination to the original story. Contrasted with the tranquil Dongmakgol, where butterflies fly among wild flowers and children play a wide grassy fields, the war feels more tragic.
The fable-like film has two scenes that rank among the greatest in recent films: Popcorn falling like a snow after a grenade explodes in the village's corn storehouse. The other impressive scene is of the indiscriminate aerial bombing of a snow-covered hill as if a fireworks.
Of special visual attraction was the folk festival in which villagers dance to the rhythm of percussion instruments and some children play on bamboo stilts. The beautiful pumpkin lamps lightening up the path leading to the village serve to add to the festive mood. Combined with Hisaishi's music, the scene bring to mind the festival scenes that often appear in Japanese films.
The movie never feels rushed in allowing the South and North Korean soldiers to develop real relationships during a lull in action.
Park was not foolish enough to have the U.S. pilot engage in the battle to defend Dongmakgol. If the American had eventually involved in the fight against the Allied Forces, the film could have been criticized for overindulging in sentimentality.
The battle scene at the end of "Dongmakgol" is spectacular to all the senses, and audiences can fully appreciate the 8 billion won (US$7.7 million) spent producing the film.