Wednesday, February 20, 2013
War is Hell. That is even more true when the combatants are engaged in a civil war, such as fought on the Korean peninsula following WWII as proxies for the communists and western democracies slugged it out on a frozen, often desolate landscape while negotiators of a truce spent years haggling over the diplomatic table. I was hesitant to try South Korean director Hun Jang's movie Go-ji-jeon: The Front Line (2011), but I am happy I watched it nonetheless. Some of the scenes were as good as in Saving Private Ryan and other superior American efforts. Counter intelligence officer Kang Eun-Pyo (played ably by Ha-kyun Shin) arrives in the Aerok Hills of eastern Korea to ferret out a suspected spy where he finds his old friend Kim Soo-Hyeok (Soo Go) who he thought had been killed in an earlier engagement. Kim soon reveals to Kang the tragic existence his battalion has endured, repeatedly taking and losing the same bloody hill, so often in fact that the sides leave hidden presents for each other every time they retreat, and the mounting toll of death, disability, and despair. Junior officers do what they can to protect their men, all the way to mutiny, as they face an equally determined foe on the field (and a particularly accurate sniper as well), but as the truce nears both sides calls upon these much-abused troops to plunge into a final all-out engagement. The viewer gets an often overlooked view at what life may have been like for Korean troops in a largely forgotten war, reminding us that American soldiers were not the only ones to die, and that there was a multiplicity of actions and reactions experienced by our allies. Overall the acting is very good, the story is interesting and well told, the photography wonderful. I am sure that the actors are familiar to their home audience. Definitely not a feel-good film, but I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who enjoys war movies and enjoys action that also condemns the brutality and senselessness (and stupidity) often accompanying bravery, sacrifice, and patriotic soldiering. Several scenes will stay with me for a long time: a young injured war orphan reacts to the taunt of an angry soldier, and a poignant moment played out between the warring sides as they prepare to engage.