Monday, 27 February 2012

The Front Line reviewed

During the last days of the Korean war, the armies of both North and South Korea battle for an isolated mountain, as which side possesses it is essential for the final demarcation of the armistice border between the North and the South during the ceasefire talks between both sides. May I mention that both countries are still, technically, at war, as no peace treated has ever been signed.

It is quite interesting that The Front Line has been filmed now, as the tension between the North and the South has again arisen, with accusations and counter-accusations being thrown across the Armistice line between the heavily armed but economically weak North, and the South, one of the strongest economies in South East Asia. It is also significative that the opening scene shows a military jeep wading its way in the streets of Seoul through a demonstration held by students who oppose the war and claim for the reunification of Korea. As it is when one of the protagonists of the film, Lieutenant Kim Soo-Hyeok, exclaims that “the enemy is the war itself, not the commies”.

This is a film about people who have died long before they actually die, because of the brutality of the war, because of the many who they had to kill, because killing becomes like breathing... Or, as Cha Tae-kyeong (Ok-bin Kim), a deadly sniper in the North's army nicknamed Two Seconds (because the bullet hits its target two seconds before the shot is heard), says, after she has killed yet another soldier from the South: “What that the boy who sang?” Or the commander in the North's army, who used to know why he was fighting, but he had long forgotten it in the mud, the rot and the blood spilled on both sides.

The way I read it, director Hun Jang did not make an anticommunist North propaganda film per se, but rather cast his eye on the battle fatigued people who were actually fighting each other rather than the rather paranoid leaders and high brass from both Seoul and Pyongyang, as we see Lieutenant Kang Eun-Pyo, the officer who was in that jeep, being later reprimanded as he criticised his superiors for labelling commies peasants who were given a gun and a kind of uniform by the North just because they wanted something to eat. The climate and the geography are unforgiving, have no illusions about that. The depiction of this brutal war is also unforgiving, no illusions about that either, so if you, readers, cannot stand scenes of extreme violence, then this film is not for you.

Security Command Lieutenant Kang Eun-Pyo (Ha-kyun Shin) has been sent to investigate a possible communist infiltration in the so-called Alligator Company, based in the Eastern front line, and the suspicious death of its commander, who was found to have been killed by a pistol used by the officers of the South Korean army. Once in the Aero-k Hills, Kang Eun-Pyo finds his old friend Kim Soo-Hyeok (Soo Goo) as a Lieutenant, also commanding the troops, a man he thought was missing in action in an early episode of the war that we see in a flashback. What he finds in those tough hills was not a communist plot or infiltration, but extremely weary and fatigued soldiers from both sides who just had enough of the war and who, in between the fighting, had managed to establish some kind of human contact. The kind of situation that is seen as intolerable in both Seoul, as we see in the film, and we suppose in Pyongyang too, but we do not see that as The Front Line is narrated from a South Korean point of view.

The themes in The Front Line are not new per se, the blood (of the soldiers) and the glory (of the leaders), the two comrades in war who face each other, but they fight together against all odds, the liaisons established between enemy soldiers on the battle ground, the hill which has changed hands more than thirty times just for the leaders and the generals to draw a line on a map. However, director Hun Jang has put them brilliantly together here, resulting in a film which is both visceral in its realism yet intelligent in the way it deals with its subject. This is not a war epic, but a film about war. However, I thought that the flashbacks, while vital in many occasions to understand the unfolding story, were also overdone.

The discs also contain the following enlightening features:

  • Making of
  • Aero-k Hill – Action and SFX making of
  • A daily record of battle – Making of production
  • Ceasefire Agreement – Production design

The Front Line is released in Britain by Cine-Asia on DVD and Bluy-ray on Monday 27 February 2012.

In the final decisive battles of The Korean War, the battle-worn armies of North and South Korea face a brutal deadlock on the rugged Aerok Hills. Fears of treachery and collusion with enemy forces trigger an investigation into the men of the South Korean Alligator Company.
A veteran intelligence officer accepts the assignment and discovers mysterious and tragic occurrences surrounding a former comrade he had long thought dead.
In the epic battle for survival that follows, the two men become locked in a deadly battle of wills. One will sacrifice his humanity for the sake of his ‘brothers’; the other will discover compassion in the agonies of war. Ultimately, both will be forced to fight side-by-side, so their loved ones can enjoy freedom for just one more day… 

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