[Review] The Front Line – 고지전

THE KOREAN BAND OF BROTHERS

Just as much as Hollywood loves their WWII movies, Korea loves their movies about the Korean War.  The film is about a company that’s stationed at the front lines.  Their job is basically to keep the strategic point that would determine the boundary line for the two nations.  However, the ownership of this front changes daily.

Kang Eun Pyo (Shin Ha Gyun) leaves his cushy assignment with the armistice committee to take an assignment at the front lines.

There he discovers a fellow school buddy, Kim Soo Hyuk (Go Soo), whom he thought was killed by the North Koreans after being taken by them at the start of the war.

The two friends realize that a lot has changed in the short 3 years since the war started.

It’s your classic war movie and the movie is at the Steven Spielberg-esque caliber.  I have to admit that a lot of the scenes reminded me of the miniseries, Band of Brothers and the movie, Saving Private Ryan.  There are moments of tragedy, moments of comedy, brotherhood and moments of realism.  I’ll get to the moments of realism in a moment because I’m not just talking about the action scenes where bombs are going off and people are dying.  So in terms of a war movie as a whole, I felt that this sense of déjà vu; I’ve seen this before.

One such moment of déjà vu is the battle to keep possession of Pohang in the Fall of 1950.  Pohang is located on the East Coast in the Gyeongsang Province and was a strategic shipping port.  It still is today.  To me, the way it was shot and edited seemed very much like the D-Day battle scene in Saving Private Ryan. This is the turning point that made heroes of some men and made others lose all grasp of their sanity. The scene is so insane that you don’t know if you’re shooting at your own army, you’re just firing in order to survive.

And the battle brings a young private up the ranks quickly. When Kang Eun Pyo first meets Shin Il Young (Lee Je Hoon), he’s alarmed at the fact that someone so young is so rude to him but then discovers that he’s a lieutenant.

Now I have to profess my love for Lee Je Hoon as an actor. First seeing him in Bleak Night and now here, I’m in awe of how this young actor grasps the more complicated aspects of the human condition. He’s far beyond his years, more so than some veteran actors.

However, I like how this movie is filled with a ragtag bunch of character actors. They round out the main characters, Eun Pyo and Soo Hyuk, and bring humor, bromance  and pain to the film.

Some of my favorites, even if they’re names aren’t familiar, their faces should be familiar.  Go Chang Seok from Hello Ghost,

Ryu Seung Ryong from Children…,

and Ryu Seung Soo and Jo Jin Woong from Tree with Deep Roots.  Jo Jin Woong plays the lionhearted Mu Hyul and I’m currently loving his character as well as his bromance with King Sejong on TWDR.

Ryu Seung Soo was also in Lie to Me but let’s not reopen old wounds, shall we?  He’s got a better script to work with here (and on TWDR).

In regards to the level of realism, I love some of the deliberate choices that the writer and director makes. For example, when Eun Pyo and Soo Hyuk first encounter the North Koreans, not all of them speak with a North Korean accent.  It spotlights how this was a civil war and just because you grew up in the same home and family, it didn’t mean that you’d end up fighting for the same side.

Also as heartbreaking as the scene was when Eun Pyo hands a young kid a piece of chocolate, I also saw that despite fearing the war, children found refuge at the army camps.  Here, they found food and other comforts during the war.

Finally, I loved the camaraderie between the opposing sides being juxtaposed with the brutality of war.  It’s kind of oxymoronic but it’s very true.  You have two sides who are obligated to kill each other but they’ve been fighting this war for so long, a war that was only supposed to be a week long.  (Yeah, right.  That’s similar to what Bush, Jr. said when we entered Iraq.)  After 3 years, they are all weary and traumatized.  And hanging on to that last bit of humanity is a source of hope for these men.  So in the trenches, they’ll leave notes that could be passed to either side or little gifts like alcohol.

After this tiny bit of civility, it’s hard to imagine the order that is given down at the end of the film.  The men are full of joy when they hear that the war is over. They start to think about their futures but those dreams are quashed immediately when they are given an order to fire all their ammo and kill as many of the opposition until the last second of the war, the date and time of the actual armistice.  It’s unfathomable but it’s war.

I think this film has an excellent chance at being nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.  As I said before, Hollywood loves its WWII films and this film has many similarities to many of the war films that have previously won the award.  Will it win the Oscar?  Eeeh, the odds are lower on that front and we’d have to see what competition it’ll be up against.  All in all, it’s a solid film; from the music, to the script, to the cinematography, to the editing, to the performances, they all work cohesively and it’s very compelling.  Definitely a must-see.

Rating

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2 thoughts on “[Review] The Front Line – 고지전

  1. I watched this in Korea over the summer. I enjoyed it a lot, but I also happen to have a soft spot for war movies. I also loved the little details like how not all North Koreans had a North Korean accent. The exchanges between the two armies especially anything involving asking the opposition to send letters/trinkets/memoirs home showed how the war tore apart families.

    My heart broke when they received their last orders. I desperately wanted a few of them to survive especially Shin Il Young. This movie introduced me to Lee Je Hoon, and I am forever grateful. His character definitely stuck with me the most. I knew Kang Eun Pyo would be the last one standing, but I really wanted it to be Shin Il Young. However, I think he would’ve been too damaged to ever lead a normal life. (This actually applies to the whole unit I believe.)

    I loved all the characters and actually remember all of them. Props to 고지전 for being a pretty awesome war movie. It didn’t really bring anything new to the genre, but I think it was what it planned to be. An epic war movie. Thank you for your review 🙂

    Like

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