War is hell. Civil War may be worst than hell and much more ‘hellish’ than one realizes. At least, that is what director Jang Hoon may be trying to communicate with his Korean war epic “The Front Line”. Set towards the end of the Korean war, this film takes the viewer into the mind of the soldier; their thoughts, their fears and even their fragility are all on display. War is hell and truly in war, no one truly wins.
During the time when an uneasy ceasefire has been ordered, fighting continues on the Eastern frontline of Aerok Hills. It becomes a race to reach a strategic point that both Northern and Southern side of Korea seems adamant in staking its claim since a new border may be the ultimate prize. Lt. Kang Eun-Pyo (Shin Ka-Hyun) of strategic defense command has been dispatched to investigate the murder of a captain and how is it a letter had been sent from the North Koreans through the Southern army. Alligator company that has been stationed near Aerok-K and this company is the only one to have survived the battle of Pohang and is considered to be one of the best. Kang’s old friend, Kim Soo-Hyeok (Go Soo) is a lieutenant in the company whom he believed to be dead. Kang soon discovers the fragile state of mind of the company, and despite their ability to hold things together, he is shocked of what he has learned. He now must try to make sense of what had happened in the past and face the truth of the countless lives loss in the Korean war.
I love war epics. You might say that films such as “The Front Line” may be geared to the movie fan such as myself. But I am not the kind who revels in the spectacle of war, but rather I look for the correct war film that has the emotions, the correct themes and the film that defines its stakes and the price of war. Jang Hoon’s film hits the correct areas and has no issues going deeper into the horrors of civil war. Themes such as brotherhood and loyalty to duty are alive in this film. It does however, apply such themes to a somewhat different application. “The Front Line” is a film about the Korean war and as such, it brings into its narrative the many horrors of such a civil war.
What I found quite compelling in the film is the way that it brings the viewer into the mind of a soldier during a civil. Countrymen against countrymen, brother against brother, the screenplay brings forth all these horrors. Certain unspoken brotherhood, even between enemies, just how the stresses of such a war come into play. The screenplay allows the characters to speak on these themes in its narrative. The result is strong, and yet never preachy. It is all about circumstances and different situations that make the film feel authentic and emotional. The script does speak sincerely from the heart of the combatants, that the more one fights, they lose a piece of their soul.
When I say that characters speak for the themes, I meant that characters are set against tragic and near impossible situations. Much of the film focuses on Soo-Hyeok and Eun-Pyo, and they do define its narrative; they are also the spotlight when itcame to the film’s moral stances. However, certain things such as the lost of innocence was played well by Nam Sung-Sik (David Lee), the eagerness for battle from the hardened veteran soldier named Yang Hyo-sam (Ko Chang-Seok), and the determination to survive the war embodied by Capt. Shin Il-Young (Lee Ji-Hoon). The script also does not neglect the North Korean side, and speaks volumes with the small cavern that serves as a means to communicate friendship between the North Korean and South Korean soldiers. The small subplot between Cha Tae-gyeong (Kim Ok-Bin) and Soo-Hyeok was an expression of exactly what “may have been” and it proved a tragedy by itself. This was what I admired about the film, it had layers upon layers of themes and such themes were spoken from the dimensions of each character. As a result, the script never felt cluttered in its cumulative impact.
The direction was strong in the delivery of the themes. “The Front Line” is essentially more of a war drama than a war movie. It deals with the hopes, the aspirations and perhaps the many disappointments. Sure, there were scenes that bordered on becoming a little too over-dramatic, but this is a Korean movie and the expression of emotions (most especially tragedy and grief) always come into play. Yes, Jang Hoon may have come a little too close in making soldiers into crybabies, but that is all about film delivery that we are not that used to.
The film does have its share bloody battles and all of them have been beautifully shot. The cinematography by Kim Woo-hyeong was very capable in expressing the raw grttiness and harrowing scenes of war. The film is very bloody, but each bloody scene was used merely to speak about the horrors of war. The use of blood and gore was tasteful and filled with emotion. The direction keeps the battles close so that the viewer could be inside the brain of a Korean soldier and the fighting is seen as a tragedy rather than a spectacle on film. You feel for every limb lost, every stab and shot fired because it was easy to be invested in the plight of the characters. War is indeed a hellish thing, and the real thing is much more brutal and unnerving, so the director does not hold back with the scenes of bloody struggle; not for spectacle but rather for realism.
“The Front Line” is a fine military-war drama. If you liked “Band of Brothers” and enjoyed films such “Tae Guk Gi” then this film is for you. The film held steady with its themes and it never lost its momentum; it became more interesting the longer it went on. The execution of its themes embodied by its characters certainly made it more powerful, but never preachy. It spoke the hidden layers of a soldier and the horrifying things brought about by war. This film gets a high recommendation from me; it is a war epic that every cinema fan should see.
Koreans know a thing or two about war. While the Korean War lasted from 1950 – 1953, the nation remains divided into the Republic of Korea and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea even today, a source of constant tension between the two peoples. It’s hard to imagine the stress and discord created between families broken apart due to living on opposing sides of the 38th Parallel, but films like THE FRONT LINE can offer citizens of the world a look … more