The Front Line (고지전) – Korean Film Review

The Front Line 2011Name: The Front Line (고지전)
Running time: 133 minutes
Director: Jang Hun
Actors: Go Soo, Shin Ha Kyun, Ko Chang Seok, Lee Je Hoon
Genre: War, Historical, Action
Notes: Images of war and everything that goes with that
Where can I get it? Available to buy from Cine Asia on the 27th February

Synopsis:

Set during the last few years of the Korean War, Lieutenant of the Defence Security Command Kang Eun Pyo (Shin Ha Kyun), is sent to investigate the suspicious death of the ‘Alligator’ company captain at Aerok Hill, along the Eastern Front. Suspecting that there may be a mole among the South Korean forces, as the bullet that killed the captain was one used in fellow officers’ guns, Kang Eun Pyo must deal with the many harsh realities of life on the front line during his investigation.

Upon arriving at the camp along front line at Aerok Hill, things are very different from what he expected. He is surprised to find his old friend, Kim Soo Hyuk (Go Soo), who he thought dead, in a position of power and his personality much changed. On top of this, war orphans have taken up residence with the soldiers, the captain is a young morphine addict, and the soldiers have taken to wearing North Korean uniforms for extra warmth. Trying to investigate the death of the previous captain whilst simultaneously fighting the North is the immense task that awaits Kang Eun Pyo.

the front line 1

The Aerok Hill, which is constantly changing hands between North and South, is the focal point for all fighting in this film. With an end to the war possible at any time, whoever is in control of Aerok Hill at that time will be able to add it to their territory. As if the fighting wasn’t bad enough already, they must battle against unseen enemies in the form of snipers, and especially “Two Seconds” – a sniper who’s reputation has put fear into the hearts of the Alligator company.

With the constant promise that the war will soon come to an end, the men of the Aerok Hill must fight on, trying to find hope in the smallest of places. Meanwhile, Kang Eun Pyo must keep investigating the suspicious death, but will his findings lead him to suspect some his old and new-found friends? Has life on the front line changed those he knew so well, so much? With a ceasefire signed, twelve more hours of fighting is announced until all hostilities must end, and it’s in this time that the last battle to take over the Aerok Hill takes place. Will Kang Eun Pyo be able to survive through this time and uncover any traitors in the Alligator company?

 Review:

I feel I have to start off the review by saying how stunning I found this film. It’s engrossing from start to finish, and I could have watched it all over again as soon as it finished. Usually a war film wouldn’t be my genre of choice, but this has seriously changed my opinion of them. Having not known much about the Korean War beforehand, this film provides a good background to the conflict without being too confusing, or giving the viewer no information at all.

The setting of Aerok Hill provides the film with a ‘bubble’ in which the story can take place. This small area, which is the world where the film takes place, contains not only the story of the war, but the story of men trying to find ways to deal with life during the war, and how the relations between these people can grow, but also be ripped apart. With the constant changing hands of who has control of Aerok Hill, the men have lost all sense of why they’re fighting, and their whole world is filled with constant orders to win back the Hill. To the soldiers, it seems there will be no end.

The last battle for Aerok Hill.

The last battle for Aerok Hill.

The continual hope that the end of the war will be announced, and the loss of faith when that day just keeps not appearing is brilliantly portrayed by the actors. In all stages throughout the film, the standard of acting is top notch stuff. The tensions between Kang Eun Pyo and Kim Soo Hyuk are great to watch. Kang Eun Pyo’s frustration and sadness about Kim Soo Hyuk’s changed outlook on life after being in the war so long is palpable. Their relationship is brilliant to watch, and throughout the film seeing how the soldiers interact with each other during the pressures of warfare is done very well.

The atmosphere created by the cinematography is truly engrossing. The visceral effects of war are shown brutally, and the mental ramifications are dealt with also. The bleak setting of Aerok Hill not only shows the physical results of the conflict, but helps to show how stripped away the lives of the men have become, until all that’s left is waiting for the next battle. The great costumes and props all help to bring the world of the Alligator company to life. It’s really no wonder this film won ‘Best Cinematography’ and ‘Best Art Design’ awards (along with ‘Best Film, Director and Screenplay’) at various ceremonies. The scenes of fighting on the Hill are filmed spectacularly, and will leave you feeling as though you’re in the midst of the fighting.

This film has a recurring message about the futility of the war. The tokens and gifts passed between some of the soldiers from the North and South via the small box in a special bunker serve to show how all of the men are similar. They want to be able to send letters to their families, share stories of their lives, and ultimately, they all want peace. The final scenes of the film are particularly poignant. When both sides realise that the ceasefire will not take effect until twelve hours after it’s been signed, tears are shed and a song from one of the young soldiers from the South is sung by the North. Again, we’re shown how the thoughts and feelings of those stuck in the war for Aerok Hill are the same. Near the end of the film, Kang Eun Pyo finds himself in a bunker with a North Korean commander. Eun Pyo asks the commander why they are fighting, to which the answer is that he once knew why, but has long since forgotten. It’s lines like this that really bring home this message.

This film is a must see. The way life is portrayed across the front line, and the effects it has are thrilling to watch, but will also pull at your heart as you share in the pain, and the occasional happiness, that the characters go through. I give this film…

Daebak Star

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