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.