THE FRONT LINE (2011)

by easyeights

Not one of the better Korean war movies out there, but a moving screening nonetheless.

I guess the war movie genre in Korea has gotten so established that it has a unique, stereotypical cast readily identifiable to anyone familiar with the genre: the haunted, psychologically scarred platoon commander; the jolly, happy-go-lucky veteran that is the sergeant; the fresh, naive rookie who is killed early on; the grotesque, unsympathetic battalion commander. And so on.

What Front Line does not deal in, however, is the heroic machismo and grandstanding available on tap in movies such as Taegukgi and My Way; it makes no bones about the neurotic sacrifices required of men under heavy mental duress in combat.

What I liked best

The set-pieces that detailed the company’s slow spiral into self-doubt and insanity even as the end of the war approaches: they implicitly recognise the senselessness in a slaughter not of their own making but yet of their own (oft unwilling) participation – regardless of whatever they choose to do in order to alleviate its surreality. American bombers massacre them after they inadvertently carry the attack too far behind enemy lines; a private machine-guns his own platoon after they are found to be hindering a hasty retreat during the chaotic early years of the war; and what is arguably the climax of the movie, both sides leave parcels of rice wine and letters for each other in an underground bunker on a hill that frequently changes hands during the fighting.

The film does not stinge on the horrors of war. If anything, it is depicted with a realism that is so real as to be almost surreal: the futility of attacking up steep, denuded slopes full of mud, blood and bodies; the incredulity of hearing a Southern pop song sung with gusto by Northern soldiers just prior to an expected attack.

What I did not like

That it got draggy in some parts and was frequently interrupted by the red herring (except towards the end) by the female sniper. I honestly did not see a need for her inclusion, and that the story would have been significantly tauter and snappier without her in it.

What I genuinely think about it

This is not a movie for the faint of heart, nor for those with extremely limited patience – that is to say that it is not your typical war movie with screaming, blood and gunfire a la Saving Private Ryan – yes, that movie by which all war movies must be judged. Think of it as the long-awaited Korean take on the Thin Red Line, and lower/raise your expectations accordingly. Jang Hun is no Terrence Malick, but he does an admirable job nonetheless.

Rating: 4/5

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