The Front Line
Directors: Jang Hun
Cast: Shin Ha-kyun, Go Soo, Ryoo Seung-soo and Ko Chang-seok
Distributor: Cine Asia
Release date: 27th February 2012
Set during the final months of the Korean war, The Front Line’s protagonist Eun-pyo is a South Korean Army intelligence officer who angers his superiors by questioning their anti-communist policies. As penance he is sent to the front line to investigate suspicions of a mole within a company of battle hardened soldiers. Suspicions were raised when letter from a North Korean soldier to his family in the South was intercepted, it seems the letter was posted by someone in the company. Also the company’s previous commander was killed in action by a bullet from a South Korean gun.
Eun-pyo arrives on the front lines with a new company commander, and finds conditions severe and morale through the floor. The acting captain is addicted to morphine, war orphans to live in the camp against regulations, and the men are deeply cynical about the war and their leaders. Eun-pyo is also reunited with his friend Soo Hyeok, with whom he served in the early days of the war and had believed to be missing in action. We see a flashback to the two men as rookie soldiers, they were captured by a North Korean commander who allowed them to live. Soo Hyeok has changed from a frightened boy into a cold and efficient killer.
As peace talks between North and South run into their second year of bureaucratic argument, the men on the front line fight for every inch of land in a terrible battle of attrition. Each side fights over the same blasted hill, which is won, then lost, then won again in a constant cycle of violence.
This is a handsome looking and well staged war film, but one that presents the viewer with absolutely nothing new. War is hell, military bureaucracy wastes lives, both sides bleed the same blood, etc, etc. The Front Line fails to find any fresh perspective on war for the armchair voyeur. This was one of those films where I had to keep skipping back ten minutes as I realised I had no idea what was going on, so numb to the repetitive violence and anguish had I become.
The film is extremely derivative of several classic war films. There is a landing boat scene now overfamiliar from Saving Private Ryan and Band Of Brothers. There are several scenes of the company storming a hill that are reminiscent of Hamburger Hill and in the sinuous camera movements of The Thin Red Line. But no film looms larger over The Front Line than Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, from which if borrows particularly heavily. Remember the horrific scene in Kubrick’s film where a sniper wounds a soldier, and then continually inflicts agonising but not immediately fatal wounds in order to draw the other soldiers into their kill zone? That scene is recreated here at length.
Viewers interested in a recent South Korean perspective on the Korean war would be better advised to seek out 2004’s Brotherhood (aka Taegukgi). This film is considerably more sentimental than The Front Line, but also has a far more compelling narrative of brothers fighting on opposite sides.
Rating: 2 stars
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