Following the outbreak of the Korean War on June 25th, 1950, the North Korean Army held superiority, both in manpower and military equipment, over the South Korean forces. So much so that the South Korean forces were pushed all the way back to Busan. General Douglas MacArthur (Liam Neeson) envisions an amphibious assault to retake the city of Seoul through the marshy lands of Incheon. However, before he is able to do so, he recruits 8 members of the Korean Liason Office to take on a secret spy mission behind enemy lines. Heading the covert operation is Jang Hak Soo (Lee Jung Jae) whose mission to obtain intel from the North Korean military offices of Rim Gye Jin (Lee Bum Soo) and provide aid from behind enemy lines so that MacArthur’s daring operation could succeed.
Operation Chromite is a movie that I had been looking forward to watching as it was a big get to have a big Hollywood actor such as Liam Neeson. First, Liam Neeson is such a great actor that I didn’t have any doubt he’d be able to pull off the gravitas of General MacArthur. I was also curious to see how his chemistry would match that of Lee Jung Jae, who is a veteran actor in his own right. Add Lee Bum Soo to the mix as the antagonist and it was a cast to look forward to.
However, the problem is that the film tells a story of good versus evil without any substance. Rim Gye Jin is painted as a Nazi-esque North Korean commander who deserves no remorse. Surely, while it is believable that there were military officials, on both sides of the aisle, that acted despicably, the film seemingly talks down to the viewer by making the decision for us.
When it comes to Jang Hak Soo, there is a pivotal scene when he’s asked his reason for wanted to be selected for this covert mission. He simply responds it’s because he wants to do it for his mother. As cheesy as the answer is, I could have accepted that answer if the movie gave a bit more backstory to this character. We see Hak Soo looking on from a distance as his mother is hard at work serving customers but the viewers don’t have a direct connection with his mother. It’s hard to feel an emotional connection with someone in which the viewers’ only connection is by proxy.
And yet, the thing I had the most trouble with is the main man himself. I understand that General MacArthur is a larger than life historical figure but I think it is a disservice to make him such a god-like figure that spouts preachy prose in the war room. I can’t imagine that anyone would have taken this man seriously or people would have followed him into battle if they couldn’t, on some level, relate to what he was saying. Now I know a lot of war movies tend to have a grandstanding moment in which an essential character is elevated to the level of a hero but even with these types of character, the audience has to be able to connect with them. Unfortunately, his speeches made me want to groan at its over-the-top, unbelievable showboating of one of the most important operations of the Korean War.
Beyond the top line actors, the film has an amazing cast which includes Jin Se Yeon, Jung Joon Ho, Park Chul Min and Kim Sun Ah. However, I was disappointed that their talents were wasted on this propaganda-esque type of film. Isn’t that the type of movies that North Korea typically makes?
In making a decent war film, it is important to represent facts in regards to key plotpoints but I can live with some embellishments as long there is a narrative reason why the facts needed to be altered. However, it’s more important that war films humanizes the characters and their motives because if the audience can’t understand what drives these character to make the choices that they do, whether it’s good or bad, then I can’t see why we should be invested in these character’s stories.