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.

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R-Point aka Ghost Soldiers (2004) A Korean Ghost War Movie

Now that was different. Feeling in a Halloweenish kind of mood I was hunting for a movie that would go well with the occasion and I must say R-Point aka Ghost Soldiers was an excellent choice. And a very unusual genre blend at that. I don’t think that there are a lot of horror/ghost war movies out there or Vietnam ghost war movies to be more precise. Korean filmmaking is famous for its horror movies and that’s why I think this movie will appeal to war movie fans and aficionados of Korean cinema alike.

Vietnam 1972. R-Point is a strategic area some 100km outside of Saigon. It’s not a combat zone but Korean, US and French troops stayed there for various amounts of time. The Vietcong are present as well but there is no talk of real fighting. Despite that fact, a whole platoon of Korean soldiers has never returned from their mission. Nobody gives this too much thought until high command receives radio transmissions from that platoon six month after their disappearance and decides to have someone investigate what happened to them. Have they been killed or are they still alive? Lieutenant Choi is designated to lead a squad of eight officers and to rescue the missing soldiers.

The moment they arrive at R-Point they get under heavy fire. It’s an intense moment and it takes a while until someone takes the shooter down. What follows is reminiscent of the end of Full Metal Jacket only here  the men let the shooter die on her own. They enter farther into the area until they find a tombstone indicating that Chinese killed Vietnamese and dropped them in a lake. The men find this quite spooky and heavy fog and drizzle makes it even worse.

I don’t want to spoil the movie and will only mention that Choi’s squad finds an old mansion that seems to have grown out of the fog and takes quarters in it. From that moment on weird things start to happen. They don’t seem to be alone. American soldiers come to the mansion in the evening, French soldiers transmit messages on the radio, a woman in a long white nightgown appears at night, people get lost, someone from the missing platoon follows them. The tensions between the soldiers are high and when the first one of them turns up dead, they get really scared.

I’m glad I watched this, it is very interesting and I could say a lot about it but it’s not possible without spoiling it. It’s unusual and well worth watching and says a lot about the wars in Vietnam. There are better Korean movies out there but I couldn’t think of another ghost war movie.