• Front Line, The



    Released by: Well Go USA Entertainment
    Released on: May 8, 2012.
    Director: Jang Hun
    Cast: Shin Hya-Kyun, Ko Soo
    Year: 2011
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    The Movie:


    The Front Line is an epic Korean War drama reminiscent of the likes of Hamburger Hill but done in the style of Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers. The story focuses on a single hill the North and South Koreans are fighting over as it will determine the boundary between the (soon to be) two countries. Nicknamed the “Alligator Company” the film primarily sticks to the soldiers’ stories to demonstrate the futility of war and the pointlessness of this particular conflict.

    The main character is Kang Eun-pyo (Ha-kyun Shin), a lieutenant in the investigative office who, after some untimely critical remarks, gets sent to the front, to Hill Areo-K and Alligator Company. Some spy activity is suspected there after the company captain is killed by a South Korean sidearm and Eun-pyo is meant to investigate this. He travels there with a teenaged recruit and the by-the-numbers new captain. Once on the frontline, though, he enters into the reality of war he never could have anticipated.

    He soon encounters an old friend he thought was dead, Kim Su-hyeok (), shown in flashback as a scared soldier who gets hauled off by the North Koreans when both he and Eun-pyo are captured. Now, Su-hyeok is also a lieutenant, a combat-hardened veteran looked up to by everyone in the company. But his hold on his humanity is clearly shaky at best due to all his time spent fighting in the war, a sentiment echoed in the rest of the company. Eun-pyo has to wrestle with this and with these men as he’s seemingly the one person who hasn’t been driven insane by it all.

    Eun-pyo is thrown into battle and begins to discover more about the missing captain as well as the company’s troubled, bloody history. And yet he’s still welcomed by them, too, showing some glimpse of hope for them all. The battle scenes here are quite varied, too, from small skirmishes to fighting the dreaded North Korean sniper “Two Seconds” to storming-the-beach scenes to the back-and-forth battles on Hill Areo-K. These are very well done, combining enormous casts and a great location with numerous special f/x. One great sequence is a stationary shot on the hill that’s basically a time lapse showing each side taking, losing, then re-taking the hill, all from the same perspective. And, indeed, the overall notion is how small and insignificant this place is while being given such strategic military and political importance. Those latter elements ignore the human cost, a cost all too evident on the faces and in the resulting actions of Alligator Company.

    Eun-pyo’s investigation leads to an inevitable conclusion but, by then, the war is seemingly over. All that remains is one final, ridiculous battle due to a technicality in the peace accord papers where they have another twelve hours to fight and, so, they’re ordered to do so. The stupidity of war is enhanced here by the great emotional impact of this turn of events and plays out solidly in the resulting huge battle sequence. The gulf between political motives and personal cost is never clearer in the movie than here, too.

    This split of humanity, where one’s soul is lost by war, leaving behind an incomplete shell, is allegorical for the filmmakers to the Korean War and, clearly, the state of Korea since. A frequent line stated by several different characters is, “When will this war end?” And, indeed, it seems that question is still just as valid in present-day Korea as well.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    This BD from Well Go USA comes in full 16:9 widescreen and suits the epic tenor of the story exceptionally well. Likewise, the Korean language-only soundtrack in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 appropriately thunders and rumbles along while also catching the small, quiet moments of the film (which are few). Dolby Digital Stereo is also available but I’m not sure why you’d want to hold back on a big war movie’s audio f/x. English subtitles are the only other option here as well.

    The original Korean trailer and the US trailer are included, the latter including some nice yellow subtitles that are easier to read than the white subs used in the film itself. There’s a making-of short that lasts about 3 min. but shows off some behind-the-scenes location shooting. Also included is something called “Highlights” which is just that - a :21-min. highlight reel, but only from the first half or so of the movie. I have absolutely no idea what the heck that’s there for.

    Summary:

    It’s good to have a large-scale film about the Korean War from the Korean perspective. While I’m sure this isn’t the first film to do so The Front Line certainly has a huge budget to tell its story. And the freedoms of the South Koreans give them the ability to comment on the conflict that has divided their country for decades and that’s a refreshing perspective as well. It’s a strong story, huge in scale but told on the very-accessible level of the soldiers fighting this last battle on both sides. That battle is clearly still carrying on and hurting the country, too.
    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!