Release Date (UK DVD) – 27th February 2012
Certificate (UK) – 15
Country – South Korea
Run time – 133 minutes
Director – Hun Jang
Starring – Ha-kyun Shin, Soo Go, Seung-su Ryu, Chang Seok-Ko, Je-hoon Lee
For his third feature, director Hun Jang (Rough Cut, Secret Union) delves into the Korean War, depicting the atrocities that occurred. The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953, and was primarily a result of the political division of Korea. Jang’s effort takes us, as the title suggests, right to the forefront of the battle, where those on the front line endure death, fear, internal strife and more.
Despite being a jumble of many different war dilemmas – some clichéd, some not – Jang’s film is a success; for within these scenarios, the anti-war undertones are always strong, the moral enigmas are interesting, and the actors thoroughly engaging. Many lines and subjects are broached in a loftier manner than you might expect from such an effort. “They are not the enemy,” one soldier declares, “War itself is the enemy.”
One sub-plot sees each side in the war bartering amicably. There is a hill that keep changing hands regularly between the opposing armies, and before long one side starts leaving forms of payment (wine, etc.), hidden in a box in the ground, as payment and persuasion for the other side to send their letters onto their loved ones for them. This, and other observations of when opposing sides are comradely to each other, such as singing in unison across the battlefield, are a welcome touch.
Strife between and caused by officers is another subject that’s tackled frequently, and the officers on our side remain as prominent characters and the infantry we follow. As well as this the film broaches madness brought on by war, intentionally friendly fire, and many other interesting war scenarios.
On occasion, Jang’s effort can steer into predictability. It’s a hard film to sit through in one sitting, and it tries to address so much that it feels like an ever changing montage of events, rather than a fluid narrative at times. But these are minor gripes.
The Front Line is almost always interesting, often exciting and is brimming with decent action, which is in turn backed by solid sets and effects. Something about the way it’s structured and the way it presents itself prevents it from being a great film, or a truly gripping narrative, but it more than succeeds on the whole.
The Front Line is a step above most modern war films. It has the courage to tackle lofty, anti-war subjects, with the harsh realism that that demands (“Did you expect to survive this war?” one soldier bitterly asks near the film’s close). It’s emotionally competent – there’s a moment where we see a single tear streak down a character’s face before war finally defeats him, and an infamous enemy sniper is early on revealed to simply be a young girl who’s a great shot. Fans of the war genre should come away impressed.
The Front Line was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on the 27th February – order your copy here.