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71 INTO THE FIRE (Korea)

In Korean With English And Chinese Subtitles
Director: John H. Lee
Cast: Cha Seung Won, Kwon Sang Woo, Choi Seung Hyun, Kim Seung Woo, Park Jin Hee, Kim Hye Sung, Moon Jae Won, Shin Hyun Tak, Kim Yoon Sung
RunTime: 2 hrs
Released By: Festive Films & GV
Rating: NC-16 (War Violence)
Official Website: HTTP://WWW.REMEMBER-71.CO.KR/

Opening Day: 21 October 2010


It is year 1950 and Korean War has begun. After continuous battles and retreats, South Korean Captain KANG Suk-dae and his unit are ordered to leave Pohang City and to head for Nakdong River where the final defense line for South Korea is being set. Before his departure, Captain KANG gives a mission to the 71 untrained Student Soldiers and their teenaged commander Jang-bom who are to be left behind at their post in the Pohang Girls’ Middle School building. The mission is to defend Pohang City and its headquarters until U.N.-led military forces arrive to Pusan City nearby.

One night, when a group of student soldiers are keeping a night watch, they spot a troop of North Korean soldiers. In spite of their fear, the student soldiers hide in the dark and manage to kill all of their enemy scouts. During one of the encounters, one of the student soldiers gets caught by the North Korean soldiers. PARK Moo-rang, the ambitious colonel leading the North Korean armies, finds out that his enemy is only a group of young teenagers. He boldly visits the Student Soldiers’ camp unarmed and demands the young soldiers to surrender.

In the meantime, Captain KANG is informed about North Korean military’s attacks on the Student Soldiers he left behind in Pohang. He tries hard to get a backup force for them. Finally, U.S. military forces decide to support Captain KANG by supplying new bazookas.

Back at the Student Soldiers’ camp in Pohang, the boys are shaken by PARK Moo-rang’s threat. They begin to fight amongst themselves, unable to decide what they should do. A couple of student soldiers including Gab-jo, deserted their camp. The next day, the North Korean armies attack with full force and the student soldiers try their best to defend their station. But as the battle continues, the student soldiers soon begin to run out of manpower and ammunition. Just then, Gab-jo returns to the camp with weapons he snatched from the North Korean army, saving Jang-bom and others who are in trouble.

But the reality catches up with them as all of the young boys are killed while Jang-bom is the last man standing. Jang-bom desperately shoots at the North Koreans with the bullets Gab-jo sacrificed his life to bring. Eventually Jang-bom is about to be taken out by PARK Moo-rang himself when Captain KANG arrives in time to save him. However, Jang-bom dies in the captain’s arms.

The 71 student soldiers have sacrificed their precious young lives, delaying the North Korean armies for 11 hours. In which time, all the civilians in Pohang had been rescued to safety and the South Korean Army and U.S.-led military forces were able to prepare for their counterattack; changing the tide of war.

Movie Review:

Generally, one would think that the Chinese filmmakers are well acquainted with producing the epic war movies. You can probably name a few hallmark ones off the record. Even with a stiff challenge as such, the Korean filmmakers are up for it this time!

The movie is set in the 1950s, during the Korean War. The narrative in itself does not have any compelling attraction. However having based on a true story and historical events, it made the movie more sellable. The sequence of the events is logical, yet they do not seem to have direct connections with the preceding ones and thus appear choppy. And it surely does not help when everything happens in a brief, where not one was elaborated in great detail. Say for instance a war scene can occur for 10 minutes, with the bombings and the sheer brutality (i.e. lots of bombings and shootings) of war taking up three quarter of that time, and the remaining time focused on the emotional development of the main lead. Even the process of forging the tight relationships between the 71 student soldiers through the realities of the war was underplayed. They were only suggestive, but not definitive. If it is your first encounter with the Korean War, there is probably much of the plot that you cannot fully comprehend.

In spite of the shortcoming of the plot itself, the movie still managed to fetch outstanding box office ticket sales in Korea. Just how did they do it? The winning formula is none other than casting one of the boys from the fast-selling Korean idol group and ensuring there is a good mix of veteran actors as well. Choi Seung Hyun, better known as T.O.P, sports one of the leading roles in this movie. One of his most notable drama appearances is that in highly acclaimed Korean drama IRIS. He has done even better this time round. Reportedly, he has spent lots of effort, concentrating on his role so much so that he had difficulty getting out of the mood of the role even when he reunites with his group BIG BANG. Such fervour displayed from one who studies film. His efforts did not go to a waste, as the emotional displays were really affectively delivered at the moment. The struggles, the upset, and even the vengeance are powerfully played. Also, veteran actor Kwon Sang Woo deserves credit in building up the mood of the movie. His is a different set of challenges, because the character he portrays more openly expresses his thoughts and feelings haphazardly. Even so, there is a good balance in his character development.

The screenplay also has its merits as not only dialogues were utilized to communicate and bring out the essentials of the story. Subtle non-verbal cues such as the North Korean commander dusting off the dirt from his boots after stepping into the vicinity of the school speaks even louder the power distance between him and the students. Clearly he has the upper-hand and could have them concede easily. So when the cards are not played out his way, the studentsí determination and patriotism shone even more.

Through the course of the movie, one consistent message is brought to the viewers: the brutalities of war bring about pain and sacrifices. The pain is not manifested in the family that anxiously await the return of the soldiers, but also the psychological pain inflicted on the soldiers. Can war ever be ethical and justified? War also involves sacrifices. If not for the deaths of the unnamed, the greater cause would not have been accomplished, just like how these 71 deaths played such a key role in the Korean War.

In closing, one can easily point out that the movie is over-dramatized, where the final show down lasted not less than 20 minutes. However, this works out to be an advantage and a style that is often used in Korean related films and dramas anyway. You may never know, this movie can possibly make the hit in the Singapore box office ticket sales as well!

Movie Rating:

(Prepare to witness the hot-blooded youths fighting with all their might to protect the pride and future of the country and be moved)

Review by Tho Shu Ling


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