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    The Front Line: VILLAGE VOICE- January 17, 2012- Review By Ernest Hardy.

    The Front Line
    Directed by Jang Hun
    Well Go USA
    Opens January 20
     

    There’s a jolting moment in one of The Front Line’s early battle scenes in which a soldier rises from behind a barricade to throw a grenade, and has his hand shot off by the opposition. Director Jang Hun doesn’t linger on this shock of violence, however. In fact, it takes place in such a frenzy of action that if you blink you might miss it. Such quick, unexpected flashes engross the viewer in this Korean War tale even as the script is filled with conventional war movie tropes and types. Hun, working from a screenplay by Park Sang-hyeon, focuses on the little told (at least on film) story of the brutal and bloody end of the war. When Kang (Shin Ha-kyun), a South Korean lieutenant, is sent to the frontlines to investigate the possibility that soldiers are colluding with the North, he discovers an old friend he thought had died as a POW years before, as well as a relationship between North and South soldiers that is surprisingly layered, complex and humane. But he’s also pulled onto the battlefield where his naïve notions of honor and fair-play put himself and others in danger. Tightly directed and well acted (even though many characters are cut-outs from every war movie you’ve ever seen), The Front Line shoehorns little known history into a familiar format, and it works.

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    Film Review: The Front Line

    A finely crafted war film with a strong dramatic thrust.

    Jan 19, 2012
    -By Maggie Lee

    filmjournal/photos/stylus/1305328-Front_Line_Md.jpg
    For movie details, please click here.

    The Front Line, one of Korea’s biggest blockbusters of 2011, depicts the bitter struggle between North and South to gain foothold of a hill at the tail-end of the 1950s civil war. Jang Hun’s even-handed direction and Park Sang-yeon’s traditional but finely tuned screenplay instills the right measure of humanist anti-war sentiment and personal heroism, turning the fates of a small company of men confined to one hellish location into an exposé of how impersonal military operations literally makes mountains out of molehills.

    An overseas audience is likely to find the film a little long, but it won the race against other Korean summer blockbusters, recording some two million admissions in ten days.

    Given the large body of war films from Korea, The Front Line does not cover new terrain in either style or content, but Jang’s signature skill at depicting brotherhood and male rivalry finds expression in his mellow, intimate focus on characters’ traumatic pasts and vulnerabilities that avoids the blustering machismo and sentimentalism of such epics as Taegukki. The varied armed conflicts provide visceral spectacle befitting the film’s production scale, but are devised in the service of human drama that advances steadily toward a stirring finale.

    In January 1953, Kang Eun-pyo (Shin Ha-kyun), from the C.I.C., a South Korean army division specializing in weeding out communists, is sent to join Alligator Company—a small troop of men assigned to occupy Aerok Hill, a strategic point on the Eastern front. His covert mission is to investigate the mysterious death of their commander and to decipher how South Korean military is implicated in delivering letters from the North to their families in the South.

    Kang arrives to find the company in low morale and the captain, Shin Il-young (Lee Je-hoon), a morphine addict. He discovers that officers engage in exchanges of an illicit nature with their enemies. A reunion with college buddy Kim Su-hyeok (Ko Soo) only leads to disclosure of more unpleasant truths. As casualties rise, Kang’s attitude toward the war is radically altered. Just when peace seems imminent, the company is ordered to make a last-ditch scramble for territory 12 hours before the official truce.

    The futility of sacrifice is symbolized by the hill, which changed hands for some 30 times in 18 months. The tacit bond between the two sides, reinforced by the frequent reminders that the communists still have and dearly miss families in the South, is juxtaposed with battle scenes where there’s no room for mercy, even toward one’s own comrades. Two scenes in which a North Korean sniper nicknamed “2 Seconds” (Kim Ok-vin) tortures her targets are agonizing to behold, especially since they are preceded by warm encounters between the characters. The rapid-fire editing and sharp, piercing sound effects make the carnage look swift and vicious, compounding horror with an element of surprise.

    The final offensive to take Aerok Hill again reflects Jang’s intention to downplay the visual fireworks of war in favor of expressing it as messy, senseless pandemonium. In the light of this, Shin’s motivating speech on why their company is named “Alligator”—like baby alligators that have a low survival rate, they are the last men standing in a war that took 50,000 lives—resonates with tragic irony. It puts the protagonists in the same state of forlorn hope as the Japanese in Letters from Iwo Jima—redefining “heroism” as dignified acceptance of destiny.

    The main characters come from a broad spectrum of rank, age and personal histories. Ko Soo is irresistible as Kim the cocky rule-breaker and master of expedience who eventually becomes the story’s moral center through his defiance of unreasonable authorities. Other officers, like Shin whose enemy is his own pain, and the greenhorn private with a choirboy voice start out looking like stock characters, but they do grow in humanity and moral stature through choices they make in crisis.

    Production quality is first-rate without being overwrought.
    The Hollywood Reporter

     

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    THE FRONT LINE: Film Journal

    The Front Line, one of Korea’s biggest blockbusters of 2011, depicts the bitter struggle between North and South to gain foothold of a hill at the tail-end of the 1950s civil war. Jang Hun’s even-handed direction and Park Sang-yeon’s traditional but finely tuned screenplay instills the right measure of humanist anti-war sentiment and personal heroism, turning the fates of a small company of men confined to one hellish location into an exposé of how impersonal military operations literally makes mountains out of molehills.

    An overseas audience is likely to find the film a little long, but it won the race against other Korean summer blockbusters, recording some two million admissions in ten days.

    Given the large body of war films from Korea, The Front Linedoes not cover new terrain in either style or content, but Jang’s signature skill at depicting brotherhood and male rivalry finds expression in his mellow, intimate focus on characters’ traumatic pasts and vulnerabilities that avoids the blustering machismo and sentimentalism of such epics as Taegukki. The varied armed conflicts provide visceral spectacle befitting the film’s production scale, but are devised in the service of human drama that advances steadily toward a stirring finale.

    In January 1953, Kang Eun-pyo (Shin Ha-kyun), from the C.I.C., a South Korean army division specializing in weeding out communists, is sent to join Alligator Company—a small troop of men assigned to occupy Aerok Hill, a strategic point on the Eastern front. His covert mission is to investigate the mysterious death of their commander and to decipher how South Korean military is implicated in delivering letters from the North to their families in the South.

    Kang arrives to find the company in low morale and the captain, Shin Il-young (Lee Je-hoon), a morphine addict. He discovers that officers engage in exchanges of an illicit nature with their enemies. A reunion with college buddy Kim Su-hyeok (Ko Soo) only leads to disclosure of more unpleasant truths. As casualties rise, Kang’s attitude toward the war is radically altered. Just when peace seems imminent, the company is ordered to make a last-ditch scramble for territory 12 hours before the official truce.

    The futility of sacrifice is symbolized by the hill, which changed hands for some 30 times in 18 months. The tacit bond between the two sides, reinforced by the frequent reminders that the communists still have and dearly miss families in the South, is juxtaposed with battle scenes where there’s no room for mercy, even toward one’s own comrades. Two scenes in which a North Korean sniper nicknamed “2 Seconds” (Kim Ok-vin) tortures her targets are agonizing to behold, especially since they are preceded by warm encounters between the characters. The rapid-fire editing and sharp, piercing sound effects make the carnage look swift and vicious, compounding horror with an element of surprise.

    The final offensive to take Aerok Hill again reflects Jang’s intention to downplay the visual fireworks of war in favor of expressing it as messy, senseless pandemonium. In the light of this, Shin’s motivating speech on why their company is named“Alligator”—like baby alligators that have a low survival rate, they are the last men standing in a war that took 50,000 lives—resonates with tragic irony. It puts the protagonists in the same state of forlorn hope as the Japanese in Letters from Iwo Jima—redefining “heroism” as dignified acceptance of destiny.

    The main characters come from a broad spectrum of rank, age and personal histories. Ko Soo is irresistible as Kim the cocky rule-breaker and master of expedience who eventually becomes the story’s moral center through his defiance of unreasonable authorities. Other officers, like Shin whose enemy is his own pain, and the greenhorn private with a choirboy voice start out looking like stock characters, but they do grow in humanity and moral stature through choices they make in crisis.

    Production quality is first-rate without being overwrought.
    The Hollywood Reporter

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    COMINGSOON.NET – January 18, 2012 – “Box Office: Lycan-Killin' Kate Takes on the Competition,” mentions THE FRONT LINE, by Ed Douglas.

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    COFFEE COFFEE AND MORE COFFEE – January 19, 2012 – Positive review by Peter Nelhaus.

    The Front Line was Korea's entry for Best Foreign Language Film for the forthcoming Oscars. That it was the chosen film was clearly based on the assumption that this would be a film that would appeal to Academy voters. If box office was the determining factor, that film would be Sunny. Had critical consensus been a factor, Korea might been represented by The Day He Arrives which was acclaimed by one Korean group of critics. Another critics group has cited The Front Line for several awards. What has yet to be fully explored by English language writers about film is the impact Saving Private Ryan has had on the Korean film industry. In the past few years, it seems like there is at least one film about the Korean War, in part taking advantage of some of the political openness allowed in the Korean film industry. One of the best known examples is Tae Guk Gi from 2004, which has had the benefit of DVD distribution from Sony Pictures. Parts of The Front Line take from Spielberg's template, especially in its depiction of battle. But there is more to the film than a bit of visual similarities.

    Much of the credit for this film should go to writer Park Sang-yeon. His novel. DMZ was the basis for the film, J.S.A. by Park Chan-wook in 2000. J.S.A was about a group of soldiers, on both sides of border diving North and South Korea, who temporarily have a truce of their own, secretly meeting on a friendly basis. That story is enclosed as part of a mystery investigated by an international, politically neutral team. Somewhat similarly, The Front Line begins with an officer who believes he is ready leave military service, sent to a battle zone to investigate the death of a captain, and the possibility of a "mole" who is facilitating communications between soldiers and their families on both sides of the war.

    Not everything is as it appears or is assumed. The narrative jumps from present to past in explaining the relationship of some characters to each other, as well as their motivations. While most of the story is from the point of view of the South Korean soldiers, parts of the film show the soldiers from North Korea. Especially as Hollywood films about the Korean War cast Koreans as marginal to their own war, a film like The Front Line is instructive about how the conflict was viewed by its own people. The main part of the film takes place during the prolonged talks during the last two years of the war, where political point making by the negotiators translated into pointless military actions in the field. The story evolves from its mystery setup to that of how soldiers survive both physically and mentally. Parts of this story involve wrong headed commanding officers, an elusive North Korean sniper, death by "friendly fire", and enemy combatants who find some common ground away from battle. Most of all, The Front Line is about the waste of war.

    I had written about Jang Hun's debut film, Rough Cut, a couple of years ago. Aside from the opportunity to work on a big budget film, there are some thematic similarities that could well have attracted Jang to this project. The film is initially about a man sent to uncover the truth about questionable events related to an army platoon. The film ends in a literal fog of war. Knowing that most of the main characters will die does nothing to abate the tension of the final battle in the film, a battle participants on both sides know is entirely pointless in the final twelve hours before the truce in enforced.

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