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.
Is it better than Tae Guk Ri? Sounds like a must see. Unfortunately Net Flix does not have it yet. Bah!
My memories are blurred, I’ll have to re-watch it and then let you know.
Sounds like a must see. Maybe I should watch it for the World Cinema Series.
It is incredibly good and quite emotional. I could relate very well to the characters. It’s such a sad story.
I hope you will like it, should you watch it.
Thanks Caroline. I haven’t heard of this one and I think it’s something I’d want to see.
Yes, I think you would. I’m always a bit cautious when it comes to Korean movies because they can be too gruesome but this one got everything right.
Thanks for good gues. I’ve watched it yesterday and I have to say it’s fantastic movie ! I am really surprised how good korean war movies are. I’ve seen another their movie named Brotherhood and it’s fantastic one too. This movies have everything: actions, storyline, good characters and EPIC battles. Good work, South Korea.
I’m glad to hear you liked it as well. It’s one of the best I’ve seen recently. Yes, I think South Korea is making great movies. Have you seen the other one I’ve reviewed 71 Into the Fire? It’s not as good as this one but very decent too. I need to re-watch Brotherhood and review it.
I’ve heard about this movie but no, I haven’t seen it yet. I am going to rewach Brotherhood, too (after The Front Line experience) and then … I’ll see. Btw. your website is really wonderful, I like to go here. So … good luck to next work 🙂
Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you like my site.
I will watch and review Brotherhood soon.
I really hate to say it but I think this movie suffers the same problems as Brotherhood of War and 71 into the Fire. Overall it just didn’t feel believable to me ,more like Hollywood. Too much slow motion, too much music and too much drama. Most importantly I can’t stand how today’s hindsight, regret, is superimposed onto a small group of troops. I don’t think its necessary. The war speaks for itself. Maybe I’m crazy. It just didn’t do it for me.
I don’t think you are crazy at all. And I wouldn’t even contradict the Hollywood effect. It felt very Western, even the choice of actors was guided by Western taste, I agree. Still, I liked it. Don’t get me wrong, a move doesn’t have to be Hollywoodish to apeal to me but I like it as well when it just feels “well done”.
It has good actors and some nice psychological notations. Nevertheless, I entirely agree with Casey’s comment: I find it heavy handed in the allegory department, and its heroism is that of of a 1930s Hollywood film – with tons of gore as a bonus. Its fascination with choreographed violence constantly tampers with its supposedly realistic anti-war message. If you want the audience to believe war is hell, do not make such a theme park attraction of it.
I suppose it’s not a good sign that in order to properly answer your comment, I’d have to re-read my post. It’s completely gone . . . Not all that memorable.