Review: The Front Line (고지전)

2012 Korean Film Festival tickets

*Possible Spoiler Alert*

I don’t watch a lot of war films; in fact I’ve probably watched more war movies from Korea than Hollywood ones, because I often find the Hollywood films short on plot with too much violence. But The Front Line wasn’t one of those. Yeah, it was a war movie – it’s set right at the end of the Korean War in fact – and yeah, there are some fight scenes with lots of blood and guts. It’s definitely a guy movie and there were more guys in the audience than girls from a quick glance. That being said, I’m a girl 🙂 and I loved it.

But it was more than a simple war flick. There were both a strong plot that kept me engaged – and made me cry (yeah, I’m a softie) – and some strong characters. It was also very well-acted by pretty much everyone in the film. I loved how it illustrated that war is never black & white, even more so when it’s basically a civil war with outside help on both sides.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Front Line, here’s a brief synopsis of the story. Near the end of the Korean War, Defense Security Command First Lieutenant Kang Eun-pyo (Shin Ha-Kyun) is sent to investigate a murder of a South Korean Captain who’s found shot dead from a South Korean bullet and to find a mole who mailed a letter from a Northern solder to his family in the South. He journeys to Aerok Hill with the replacement Captain and a young Private. There he finds an old friend – Lieutenant Kim Soo-hyeok (Ko Soo) – and a unit that’s ravaged by the war in both visible and invisible ways.

Things aren’t straightforward or as black & white as Eun-pyo would like and the more he learns, the more complicated the situation appears. Plus, the war is still raging around them and control over Aerok Hill is exchanged several times through brutal battles. And to further complicate matters, a North Korean sniper – nicknamed “Two-seconds” – is picking off South Korean soldiers. It all culminated in a final battle with 12 hours left until the armistice agreement goes into effect. Basically, it’s a thriller, a war drama and a strong character-driven story all wrapped into one film.

I’m definitely no expert on films but in my amateur opinion, the cinematography of the actual fighting scenes was extremely well-done. It made the skirmishes seem authentic without glorifying the violence which you sometimes see in war films. There were a few times I hid my eyes (remember, I’m a bit of a wuss) but not many. I found many of the fighting scenes almost more emotional than violent if that makes any sense. Case in point would be the Pohang scene (yeah, I cried).

But even more so than how it was filmed, I loved the characters. Most of them weren’t portrayed as good or evil – on either side – but rather a blend of both, with a dose of crazy in some cases. It was interesting that the thing most of the soldiers seemed to hate most wasn’t the “enemy” but rather the occasional incompetence of their commanding officers and the war itself. The audience got to know several of the characters well, and we got to see that even as some of the soldiers were extremely proficient at killing, it was taking a huge toll on them.

I don’t want to give too much more away about The Front Line, I think you should just go watch it yourself. I would definitely recommend this movie – to anyone!

Rating: **** out of five

Did you see The Front Line? What did you think? 

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday – this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it’s taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I’m the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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