The Front Line (2011)
Director: JANG Hun
Starring: SHIN Ha-kyun, KO Soo, RYOO Seung-ryong, LEE Je-hoon, KO Chang-seok
Set at the messy end of the Korean War just before the signing of the final peace treaty, Kang Eun-Pyo (SHIN Ha-kyun) is sent to investigate the troops at Aerok hill, a strategic point on the Eastern front that has changed hands many times during the fighting. Apparently, letters from the Communists have been delivered to the south and the last commander died under suspicious circumstances.
As it turns out Kang’s friend Kim Soo-Hyeok (KO Chang-seok), who he was separated from early in the war is part of the unit fighting for the hill, but he has changed since they were last together.
The unit is a mess when Kang arrives with his commander and a private, the soldiers have taken and lost the hill at least thirty times during the fighting and just want the war to end. Even when you think the war has ended, the war has not ended with you and the powers that be want total war until the peace treaty comes into effect.
While this movie will be compared with Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War straight away, I thought it was quite a bit different as we get to see more the whole unit and get to know the characters. It reminded me a lot of Joint Security Area with the communication between the two sides and them even meeting up at one point. There is also a side plot about the enemy sniper “Two Seconds”, which ads an extra kick to the story.
There are also shades of the movie Hamburger Hill, especially with some of the battle scenes and the taking of a strategic hill at the orders of someone higher up in military command that the ordinary soldiers have to deal with.
One of the scenes even bought to mind the famous Christmas truce during WWI when both the sides don’t really want to fight, but know they have to and share a song before going into battle.
It is a very brutal movie, but not without flashes of humanity and even the enemy is well rounded for once. I couldn’t go straight to bed after watching this film and had to sit up for a while and think about it.
The battle scenes are very well staged, there is the usual shaky camera work and sometimes you don’t really know what is going on, but it helps make it more realistic.
Stories about the Korean War are very popular in Korea, I would say this would be more of a companion movie to Brotherhood of War than a competitor to it. If you would like something a bit lighter in tone I would go for Welcome to Dongmakgol.