SYNOPSIS: In 1951 ceasefire is declared, but two remaining armies fought their final battle on the front line. Towards the end of the Korean War, a South Korean battalion is fiercely battling over a hill on the front line border against the North in order to capture a strategic point that would determine the new border between two nations. The ownership of this small patch of land would swap multiple times each day. Kang is dispatched to the front line in order to investigate the tacit case that’s been happening there. But he gets spiralled into the war that’s more terrifying than death itself when he meets his friend Kim, who has transformed into a war machine…
Some detractors might argue that once you see one Korean War movie in your lifetime, you seen all. Well, this might not be a fair statement but director Jang Hun and writer Park Sang-Yeon still manage to keep things engaging in “The Front Line”.
In this South Korea’s submission to the 84thAcademy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, “The Front Line” depicts the destiny of two best friends during the last leg of the 1950 to 1953 Korean War. The North and South has been fighting for the same strategic point on Aerok Hill for years and while a ceasefire is finally declared, Alligator Company found out to its dismay they have 12 hours before the declaration takes place and they are given the unfortunate order to slug things out with the North for the last time.
Eun-pyo (Shin Ha-Kyun) is a First Lieutenant sent by Seoul to the front line to sniff out a mole in Alligator Company. But the things he saw is much more than he can imagined. His once captive friend, Soo-Hyeok (Go Soo from “Haunters”) is not only alive but has turned into a daredevil First Lieutenant serving under a babyface, morphine addicted Commanding Officer, Shin and together with a platoon of diehard followers, they have survived countless battles at Aerok not counting an unspoken one in Pohang earlier.
Seen through the eyes of Eun-pyo and Soo-Hyeok, the meat of the story is not on the issue of who’s conquering Aerok Hill. Jang’s underlying message to all seems to be the question of what’s the purpose of fighting among brothers. Losing so many innocent lives on a wasteland which amounts to nothing at the end of the day except for some leftover battle-fatigued soldiers, this is a repetitive message in Jang’s movie.
Comparing this to “Taegukgi”, “The Front Line” takes on a far more dramatic, less flashy approach and the 133 minutes movie is leisurely paced though occasionally interspersed with battle sequences. The carnage quotient is much lower though there are tense moments involving a sniper dubbed “Two Seconds” and the resulting conflict between the latter and Eun-pyo deserved a mention. A subsequent melodramatic moment occurred in the later part of the movie that highlights the plight of young orphans will bring tears to the eyes. The supposedly spy turns out to be a mere communication box between the North and South soldiers where they exchange letters, cigarettes, chocolates and rice wine and this perhaps is a nice reminder that despite the ongoing fire and killing, the basic human nature is never on the devil side.
Shin Ha-Kyun and Go Soo both turns in solid performances. Shin as the morally-idealistic soldier while Go Soo happens to be one soldier who never minces his words and has no qualms killing his incapable Commanding Officer in order for his platoon to survive the ordeal. “The Front Line” is one war movie that never let the action takes the centerstage instead it’s an in-depth character study on the absurdity of war or in this case, is there a need at all? While contemporary highly-decorated soldiers spent their entire combat experiences on makeshift table tops and computer screens, why not spend 2 hours watching mates of the Alligator Companys sweating their guts out even though the story is fictional yet so inspiring and educational.
The DVD comes only with a Photo Gallery and Trailer.
The intended orangey and sepia tones portray itself beautifully on the TV screen unfortunately the sound mix is limited to a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack which mars the viewing experience a little.
DVD RATING :
Review by Linus Tee