This drama commemorates the soldiers who gave their lives in the Korean War, fought between North and South Korea between 1950 and 1953, and is designed to remind people that the heavy cost of human lives far outweigh any national glory. Lee Hyun Joong is a South Korean squad commander and war veteran who is dedicated to protecting the lives of the soldiers serving under him, despite his jaded outlook. His chancemeeting with Lee Tae Ran on the battlefield stirs memories of the past, but she is now a lieutenant of the North Korean army.
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Cast & Credits
In the United States, that conflict which came to be called “The Korean War,” holds another designation besides: “The Forgotten War.” Several reasons exist for this, but chief among them is actually timing. Wedged between heroic World War II and hellish Vietnam, amassing fewer American casualties, and yielding little accomplishment, these hostilities are often overshadowed and thus rarely remembered (unless someone mentions M*A*S*H, of course). And yet for Koreans, that this war could be “forgotten” is unthinkable. Its effects are likened unto wounds that ache even today, dividing an entire people along the scar known as the DMZ.
So why stop to talk history? Because, when it comes to a powerful drama like Comrades, it just seems necessary. As many among us have come to know and love South Korea (and not just for excellent entertainment, but its culture and people also), we ought to be aware of the painful history which has molded it until now. After all, that sentiment seems to be at the heart of Comrades: the fervent wish for the viewer to understand.
What’s more, this drama helps one to do so in an entertaining and sincere manner, without the heavy-handed ideology, pointed fingers, or macho-man heroism which might muddy its message. The plot unfolds tightly, abandoning exposition and filler to allow characters and events to stand for themselves. The viewer is never spoon-fed or told what to think, and thus free to see Comrades as it is: a story of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. That means that even soldiers from the North are portrayed humanely, whereas not everything in the South comes across as noble. A drama which pulls no punches with any aspect, and never insults the intelligence of its viewers is all too rare.
And so we see The Korean War from a uniquely Korean perspective, following various participants (from South and North Korean soldiers, to guerrilla fighters and even deserters). We learn their stories, each unique and fleshed out, and often come to feel for them no matter the “side.” Not only men are represented, either, with female combatants frequently appearing in the narrative (and well-handled, at that). Yet the best thing about Comrades might be the fabulous characters of 1st Squad, and the deep bonds which form between them. Viewers spend most time with these men, growing to adore them as they fight and survive together. The term “bromance” was invented for such touching male friendships, and I'll never use it lightly again.
Despite the fact battles often occur on screen and action plays an important part in Comrades, the involving and personal nature of the story is what will stick with viewers. Though it might make you cry from the gut, pump your fist triumphantly, or cover your mouth in disbelief, it’s a chance worth taking. For war film and history lovers, you’ll doubtlessly adore Comrades. But if you’re hesitating because this is not your usual type of show, stop! You’ll never see a drama quite like this again, as mature, well-made, and without fear. And the only regret you’ll have after? How pale it makes others seem in comparison.
Perhaps no better Korean ensemble cast yet exists than the one in Comrades. Ever-immaculate Choi Soo Jong headlines as devoted and fatherly Lee Hyun Joong, the sergeant in charge of 1st Squad. This character’s love and care for his men exceeds that of his own life. As I told a friend, Choi appears slight, yet his presence looms large and vibrant; more impressive is that he manages this with a surprising humanity and straightforwardness. I’m extremely attached to Sergeant Lee, even now: an incredible role for an incredible actor.
From Choi Soo Jong, it becomes difficult to single out anyone, but not because they flow together. On the contrary, each character is so well-defined and acted that should I stop to name everyone that stood apart, we’d be here for many more paragraphs. Instead, I’ll list some of the best: Kim Roe Ha (complicated Sergeant Park), Lee Seung Hyo (brash Private Jung), and Ryu Sang Wook (pious Medic Joo Yong). Kim Myung Soo and Jung Tae Woo are notable from the North Korean side, while Lee In Hye and Lee Tae Ran do the ladies proud.
Nothing is more delightful than finding a cinematic soundtrack in a drama. Well, being able to find every track with its title translated might be (as was possible with this one). Almost everything is memorable, with nary a false note to be heard from tense and exciting themes (“Kyrie”) to those equally quiet and painful (“Salute to the Deceased”). Many of my favored Korean dramas tend to include Insooni on the soundtrack, and here her soulful voice haunts the shattering ballad “I Will Come Back.” Among other important vocals are “Requiem for the Unknown Soldiers,” (Gloomy 30’s), and the enduring, folksy “Friends,” offered by Kim Jang Hoon—and on occasion, the boys of 1st Squad. After the final episodes, this is a song that might burrow its way into your heart forever.
While these words has graved in a deepest chamber of my heart, I'll try to tell you about this magnificent piece, about the best drama ever made in history of television although I don't think it can be described with words. Seriously, it’s impossible to describe Comrades the way it should be described. I do not have that kind of vocabulary that could tell a story about such a beautiful work. But I'll try it anyway..
Stunning. Simply stunning. Comrades has grabbed my heart, mind and soul and captured me, possessed me. When I finished whole drama last night, I couldn't fall asleep, I was laying on bed for hours just starring in the ceiling and trying to revive my broken heart.
I don't have any special love and interest for war theme but I do appreciate when movies and dramas in that genre are well done with believable and realistic story and development of events. Which is the case with this drama. Comrades doesn't tell you the story nor the characters tell you what are they doing, whole drama SHOWS you all that through their actions, through the look in their eyes, so naturally and brutally realistic. And doesn’t sugar-coat anything, I didn't feel not for a moment that it's trying to impress me or manipulate me, it was like it was trying to take me in the true inside story. Sometimes that story got so unbearable (the hopelessness, the senselessness of it all) that I had to stop the video and simply walk away. And after a while come back again fully prepared for more feelings than previous time and I wondered whether in those moments show started to become manipulative, taking me to hell and getting last drop of tears from me. I cried like I don’t think I have ever cried watching TV. I bawled. I sobbed loudly and messily, I cried out as my heart broke and I felt grief and despair.
The whole story is about soldiers who fought in Korean War and it shows you their stories, both from South and North Korea, you get to see ordinary people who willingly or not found themselves in that chaos and cruelty, you see that there aren't good or bad guys, both countries show you that people everywhere are the same; they just want to live peacefully, care for their families, and make a living., it's not a story about winning or losing, it is a story about human beings getting involved with each other and bonding as long as they live.
I got attached too much for the characters and I got a feeling as if I met them face to face. Every one of them felt so real, tangible. The more episodes I watched, the more invested I became in their lives. I was constantly longing to be able to reach into the screen and give each character a big hug. I was overwhelmed by the warmth and the love that I felt for these soldiers, these young men who wanted nothing more than to live. I laughed and cried and breathed with every single one of them. They are now as real to me as the people I know in my everyday life. And thanks to that, I was able to understand, if only just a little bit, some of the horror of war. It was the first time I’ve loved so many characters in one drama, and not just loved them, but feared so much for their well-being. I watched every episode with one hand over my mouth and the other over my chest. “Survive, survive, please survive.” I wanted everyone to live.
If I have to pick some of the characters I love the most, I couldn't do it cause all of them I love to the fullest. But there are some of them who fascinated me and captured me the most. First is sergeant Lee. He is the sole heart of the Squad and the actor Choi Soo-jong was more than perfect, he was outstanding to the point I was questioning whether he was in real war or just acting. His character is a true leader, his courage, compassion, commitment we fell to the core. He knows what needs to be done, and he simply does it. He commands, he protects, he encourages, he teaches, and most importantly, he loves. His men are his family, his children, his responsibility. He values their lives far more than he does his own. If Lee Hyun-joong has a flaw, it’s his tendency to care too much. As a result, the men under his command forge a bond stronger than steel. They fight, whine, nag, and complain, but when faced with a choice to save themselves by leaving someone behind, or to stay together no matter the cost, then there really isn’t a choice. “All for one and one for all” might as well be tattooed on their foreheads. Second private Jung Taek-soo, he was my favourite boy and my heart ached for him like never before, he was so brave, loyal to the bones to his mates and I loved his on the surface emotionless but actually very soft in his heart, and third character I fell the most for was Park Il-kwon, that ahjussi was a real badass, how much he sacrificed and how much he did bear only to help his friends, he was called by many names and insulted and tortured but he survive all that until the end, I felt sorry for him too many times. Also a medic boy Park so sweet, caring, brave at every moment but very sensitive, then on North Korean side Chun Yong-taek, a true idealistic man who fought fair and who stood up side by side with Lee Soo-kyung, who was such a kick ass woman, I admired her so much to the middle of the show and then I literally wanted to rip her apart and strangle her, her transformation was truly magnificent, the actress was incredible. As you could see, I got attached to all of them.
Comrades has a fabulous soundtrack. One of the best in entire world, I don't know which song or instrumental left me speechless more, maybe that opening song "20 october 1950' or "Patriot's Way" or "I will come back" from Insooni or "Kyrie" which played every time something too shocking happened. I think that music from this drama tells more than words could ever do simply cause words are not enough nor they could ever show those feelings that music can give you. That song 'Friends' I'll remember for the rest of my life and it'll stay as a song which will always remind me of this brilliant drama and her marvelous friendship in it.
Comrades gets everything right. Faultless acting, script, story-telling, editing, pacing, special effects and stunts, splendid soundtrack, sets and locations, historical faithfulness, top notch battle scenes, interesting and believable characters, an intelligent sensibility, maturity…
In the end, after all those powerful feelings and after my heart has calmed a bit, the thing I will remember forever is Squad One. That brotherhood, that bond deeper than friendship and stronger than death, between men who side by side with each other strive to keep body and soul together in hell. That affection and commitment. Because Comrades isn’t just about a war, it’s about people, people whom I’ve come to care too much about and who will make me cry every time I think about them.
I promise you, you will never be the same after watching this drama. And one thing is sure, Comrades will rip your beating heart right out, throw it on the floor and step on it, then leave you all alone to pick up that poor heart if it's not already destroyed from all those bruises. Either you're a crier or not you’re gonna cry anyway, I guarantee that and if you’re masochistic like I am you’ll probably even like it.
“Wish we could just go back to our 1st Squad days.”
“Uh?! What was so great about those days? We risked freezing to death, not to mention what happened in the caves. Oh…the concentration camp. Was it really that good?”
“Except all that drama, of course. Anyway, back then… there were nine of us.”