Genre: War • Drama
Director: Jang Hun
Starring: Shin Ha-kyun, Go Soo, Ryu Seung-su, Ko Chang-seok, Lee Je-hoon
Duration: 133 min.
Towards the end of the Korean War an uneasy ceasefire is ordered, but out on the Eastern front line of the Aerok Hills in an expanse of land called the Aero.K, fierce fighting continues. A race to capture this strategic point to determine a new border between the two Koreas is the ultimate prize.
The Front Line is the third film from South Korean director Jang Hun. A box office and critical success in it's home country, it received four Grand Bell awards including Best Film, at South Korea's version of the Oscars. It has also been selected as South Korea's entry to the 84th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.
Set on the Eastern front line, in an area of intense fighting between the North and South forces over a strategic hill, the film follows intelligence officer Kang Eun-pyo (Shin Ha-kyun), sent there to uncover the secret behind a Captain who died from friendly fire, whom his superiors believe was killed by a spy. Kang arrives and to his surprise, discovers his old friend Kim Soo-hyuk (Go Soo), who he thought was killed or captured years ago, now an officer fighting in the battle hardened Alligator unit. He also soon learns that the rules and the conditions out here are far different than what he expected.
There have been a few pretty good Korean war films in recent years such as Taegukgi, Joint Security Area or 71 Into the Fire, but this is one that doesn't quite work for me. The characters are all either forgettable cannon fodder or one note stereotypes, the fresh faced recruit, the crazed veteran, the incompetent commander, or the quiet hero. None of them are developed much beyond anything other than a scene or two that sets them up to be killed, and Jang includes far too many forced melodramatic moments in those scenes, serving only to dilute any emotional impact I should have felt for their deaths.
The battle scenes were relatively well done though, with some great cinematography that captures the feel of combat. Using a mixture of interesting hand-held close ups down in the trenches and wide shots revealing the full scale of the battlefield, you really get a sense of the ferocity of the war, and the scenes involving US airstrikes are truly terrifying. However it does get a bit repetitive watching them fight over the same bombed out hill over and over again for 2 1/4 hours.
If you are in the mood for a blockbuster Korean war movie, albeit a mostly forgettable one, then you might enjoy this, but I recommend seeing one of the other ones I mentioned above instead.