The Front Line aka Go-ji-jeon (2011) A Stunning Korean Movie

The Front Line aka Go-ji-jeon is a stunning movie. I wasn’t all that lucky with Korean war movies before. Something was always off. Either the acting was over dramatic or they were too intense, or lacking a story and appealing characters. But this movie get’s everything right.

The story about the final battle of the Korean war is heartbreaking. One of those utterly pointless we-fight-to-the-last-man battles which didn’t serve anyone. What is more harrowing here even than in other instances is the fact, that the battle took place after the armistice had been signed. For absurd reasons the cease-fire was only to be implemented 12 hours after the signature.

But I’m starting with the end. The final battle takes up less than half an hour. Until we get there the movie has plenty of time to tell back story, side stories and to develop many arresting characters. Some will die, some make it but it’s painful every time, one of them is killed.

In 1953, just before the end of the war, Lt Kang Eun-Pyo (Ha-kyun Shin) is ordered to the Eastern front line to investigate the murder of an officer who has been shot by someone of his own company. The front line lies in the Aerok Hills. The border between the enemies is constantly changing. Some days the border lies more to the north, some days it’s more to the south. Some of the trenches and dugouts are changing occupants every other day. The fighting is intense, the morale is low.

When Kang Eun-Pyo arrives he is surprised and happy to find his old friend Kim Soo-Hyeok (Soo Go). He thought his friend had been killed a long time ago but it seems he isn’t only alive but in charge of things. The commanding officer is a very young guy showing signs of severe trauma and a serious morphine addiction. It’s obvious the heavy fighting has taken its toll. The men have had enough. They don’t even know what they are fighting for anymore. They show signs of insubordination and there are even rumours of contact between the enemy parties.

“Two Seconds”, as they call an enemy sniper, is giving them a particularly hard time. They stand no chance against this incredible and cunning shot. Every time they are on patrol or attacking, “Two Seconds” gets some of them.

The group Kang Eun-Pyo has joined is very composite. There are young recruits who have never fought and battle-hardened older men who already saw combat in WWII. This is quite traditional for war movies but the characters are likable and well-developed.

There is conflict due to the fact that the men are so battle weary and a crime has been committed which needs to be solved. Kang Eun-Pyo is very strict in the beginning, he wants to find the culprit but after a few days and some heavy combat he has to understand that the officer may have been shot as a result of bad leadership. The situation in these hills is so precarious any wrong decision is fatal. On top of that, everybody knows the war is about to end and the men do not understand why they are sacrificed for nothing.

There is another secret to uncover which has nothing to do with the murdered officer. The company which is called “Alligator company”, because they are so great at surviving, has gone through something very horrible in the past. More than one man shows sign of PTSD but nobody tells Kang Eun-Pyo what has happened. He will find out eventually but only after a long time.

The movie combines a great story line with a succession of amazing and surprising scenes. Some of the scenes are quite drastic, there is even one reminiscent of the Omaha Beach landing in Saving Private Ryan. Still, the movie manages to do without the usual Korean gore. It only gets gruesome at the very end.

What I really liked is the fact that this is an intense combat movie that combines action, suspense and emotion, something that you don’t find all that often. The actors are very good, the music is well-chosen and the cinematography is great.

I’m really happy that Show Box Media offered me a review copy of this movie. The Front Line is an exceptionally good movie. A real must-see.

71- Into the Fire aka Pohwasogeuro (2010)

71-Into the Fire is based on the true story of 71 South Korean student soldiers who, in August 1950, fought back the North Korean 766 Commando Brigade. In an incredible act of bravery they held out for 11 hours. Thanks to their courage and commitment the allied forces were capable of holding a bridgehead at the Nakdong River.

This brief paragraph sums up the story pretty much but it will not tell you anything about the way this story is told.

Unlike most Western movies 71-Into the Fire doesn’t start with an introduction of the main characters. It doesn’t show our group of young men in a training or boot camp, nor are we slowly led into the action. No, this movie starts with intense combat scenes and only slows down after having shaken us for a good 15 minutes. In so far it has some similarities with Saving Private Ryan. But that is where the similarity stops. There is a lot of use of slow motion in this movie which I can’t remember having seen in Saving Private Ryan or other war movies that often.

The main character, the first of the students to which we are introduced, is Oh Jung-Bum. He is inexperienced and scared. When he sees how one of the superior officers is shot, he almost breaks down. He can’t even help him or fire a shot, his hands are shaking too much. Still he stays with the man until he dies and for this he is promoted immediately to captain of the newly formed student company.

The 71 young students, or rather 68 students and three young convicts, haven’t had any training before. Most of them have never shot one single bullet in their life. This is far from promising but as the graphic scenes have shown, there is need for desperate measures. The North Korean forces are advancing rapidly and if the Allies cannot defend the bridgehead on the Nakdong River, they will be overrun by the North Korean forces.

Oh Jung-Bum is far from being the leader type and he knows it. Unfortunately the others know it as well and he has a hard time to make them follow his orders. Only after he has proven himself worth and gained respect, will they listen to what he says.

When the North Korean army finally approaches, we get to see an ugly and desperate fight that doesn’t leave a lot of survivors. The boys really give everything and manage the sheer impossible and hold back a well-trained and well-equipped army.

It is a heartbreaking story and I liked some parts of it a lot but the last 15 minutes or so were totally over the top. There was too much dramatic dying for my taste and I found it quite propagandist.

Despite its flaws I would give it a 4/5 because it is really gritty and tells a story that isn’t known much and it is undoubtedly a must-see for people who like the genre. Additionally the filming is quite interesting. However, as said before, I have huge reservations as to the end.

Thanks again to Cine Asia for sending me a review copy of this movie.

Please also check out Novroz’ review of the movie. She was the winner of the DVD Giveaway.

Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino (2008) Another Grim Korean Vet or Why I Think Gran Torino is Dishonest

To a certain extent my title does already give away what I thought of Gran Torino, only it is toned down. I was actually thinking more than once while watching “What a load of crap!”. Sorry, people, if there is anyone reading this who liked it, no offence.

Gran Torino tells the story of an old grumpy Korean vet (no, this isn’t a cliché, of course not), Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood)  who has recently become a widower. He lives in a neighbourhood that has been invaded (his point of view) by…? – Ha! I’m aiming at 100% percent politically correct wording here and will therefore translate what Swiss official papers would use as a wording which is “People with a migratory background”. OK, once more with feeling. His neighbourhood is invaded by people with a migratory background or – less politically correct –  “spooks” and “gooks”, as our vet calls them. Especially unsavoury to him is the fact that the house next to him is occupied (his point of view) by gooks.

At the funeral and the reception that follows, it becomes clear that Walt Kowalski doesn’t get along with his family or children. The relationships are extremely tense and full of mutual animosity and mistrust. Walt is one of those tight-lipped men who answers with a grunt rather than a full sentence. He is suspicious and full of hatred for almost every one around him. And he loves his beer.

The family who moved in next door consists of the grandmother, the mother, a daughter and a teenage boy. The boy loves to do gardening and hangs out with his family or can be seen reading a book. This greatly displeases his cousin who belongs to a local street gang.

This gang tries to clutch the boy and wants him to join the gang. They are sexist and macho. Without really wanting to Kowalski helps the boy. The cousin however will not let go easily and the boy and his sister are in real danger. The boy’s behaviour seriously tarnishes his cousin’s street cred. This must be punished.

The neighbourhood they are living in is dangerous, especially for a girl who might get raped any minute. Some time later Kowalski helps the girl against a bunch of “spooks”. The girl and our vet get to know each other and when he calls her “gook”, she corrects him and tells him that she isn’t Vietnamese but of Hmong origin. The Hmong are mountain people, located between China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. During the war in Vietnam they were on the side of the US and were later abused, mistreated and executed by the Vietnamese. That’s why so many fled to the US, as the girl tells Kowalski.

And this is where the movie lost me for good. It drifts into some tacky redemption parable that I found all the more dishonest because of this Hmong detail. Not that I don’t think they deserve a movie, they certainly are a tragic people but to choose to focus on Hmong rather than on other immigrants – sorry, I meant people with a migratory background – is such a dishonest thing to do. It is as if Eastwood could only choose and have Kowalski accept them because they were on the side of the US. Kowalski is and stays a racist all through the movie.

The message is dubious, the movie is tacky and clichéd , the ending is corny…

Skip it!

Here is the link to the Hmong Net for those interested.

71-Into the Fire aka Pohwasogeuro (2010) DVD Giveaway

Following yesterday’s announcement this is the official giveaway for the South Korean movie 71-Into the Fire. Here’s what it’s all about.

On August 11th, 1950, 71 boy soldiers of the South Korean army singlehandedly held back the elite North Korean 766 Commando Brigade for a full 11 hours. Most were still in their school uniforms and had only fired a single bullet in training!

Their astonishing bravery under fire enabled allied forces to hold a strategic bridgehead at the Nakdong River and gain a tactical advantage that would help turn the tide of the entire war. Nothing less than the freedom of their nation was at stake. Their ingenuity, tenacity and brotherhood helped them to achieve the impossible.

This is their remarkable true story…

As I said yesterday this giveaway is courtesy of the distributor cine-asia. I’m giving away 2 DVD’s (region 2) of the movie 71-Into the fire.  To enter, simply leave a comment with your e-mail address and let me know why you would like to have this DVD.  Should there be a lot of interested people the first one to leave a comment will get one, the second will be drawn from the remaining names. The giveaway finishes Thursday 31 March. The winners will be announced on April 1st.

THE DVD IS REGION 2 CODED

Pork Chop Hill (1959) or The Best Korean War B-Movie?

Lewis Milestone’s Pork Chop Hill is based on the eponymous book by military historian S. L. A. Marshall and depicts the fierce Battle of Pork Chop Hill. Towards the end of the Korean War the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division and Chinese and Korean Communist forces fought for this strategically unimportant hill.

The year is 1953, while the Panmunjeom cease-fire negotiations continue, a company of American infantry was to recapture Pork Chop Hill from a larger Communist Chinese army force. Successful but highly decimated, they were ready for the large-scale Chinese counter-attack which they knew would overwhelm and kill them in hand-to-hand fighting.

This movie is bothering me quite a lot for many reasons. I can’t say I did not like watching it as that is not true. (Maybe I am secretly an infantry combat war movie buff. At least no questions about whether this is a war movie or not. That seems settled.)  Unfortunately there are a lot of questionable elements in it. I can still hardly believe that the very same man, Lewis Milestone, who did All Quiet on the Western Front did this thing too.

This was my first US movie on the war in Korea. I read articles and list and it seemed as if there are not so many great ones. Gray Freitas terms Pork Chop Hill the best B-Movie. Aha. Others call this one of the better ones…

I hated the end. This was not the battle that finished the war. I hated that we have no clue what it is all about. And I hated that they had to choose an African-American soldier to play the part of the treacherous coward.

I did appreciate the battle scenes. They way it was shown how battle takes its toll. Those soldiers were so tired… It captured nonsensical high command orders very well. I also like the relationship between Gregory Peck and the Japanese-American officer. And I think Gregory Peck is very good in this movie.

I will post another, more general post on the war movies depicting the Korean war. And I will certainly need to review Tae Gu Ki aka Brotherhood.

I must honestly say, after watching Pork Chop Hill and reading a few things about US movies on this war, I am not extremely keen on watching any other ones. Maybe M.A.S.H.

Feel free to share your opinions and ideas on the topic.

The trailer will tell you that the DVD cover is misleading as Pork Chop Hill is a black-and-white movie.