DIR: John H. Lee • WRI: Man-Hee Lee • PRO: Myoung-gy Choi, Jong-hyun Kim • DOP: Chan-min Choi • ED: Steve M. Choe, Changju Kim • DES: Ki-ho Choi • CAST: Seung-won Cha, Sang-woo Kwone, Seung-hyeon Choi
Spielberg may have set the bar for hyper-realism in battle sequence with Saving Private Ryan, but the very welcome offshoot of this is that every war-movie made since fights to stand alongside it. 71 – Into the Fire is no exception, and the pure bloodiness of its battle sequences are matched only by a dedication to character development and audience identification. At no point in its not inconsiderable running time (116 mins) does 71 separate the audience from the material onscreen – we are stuck with these soldiers, barricaded into a lonely outpost, defending a token structure.
The story of 71… is based on true events occurring during the North-South Korean conflict in August 1950. Southern forces (backed by the US) are forced to pull back in the face of a Northern onslaught (supported by Russia) to defend strategic posts, leaving the isolated girl’s middle school at Pohang defended by 71 student soldiers, many of whom have never shot a single bullet. Heading up the students, appointed by the gung-ho Captain Kang (Kim Seung-woo), is the strongly silent Oh Jang-beom, played by Korean superstar rapper, Choi Seung-hyon. Immediately running up against gangster bad-boy Koo Gap-jo (Kwon Sang-woo), the students begin in-fighting and disorganisation from the moment the ‘adults’ retreat. However, within hours of their appointment, it becomes clear that North Korean troops are massing close to their outpost, intent on ending the war before 15th August. The man with this somewhat arrogant plan is Commander Park Moo-rang (Cha Seung-won), who swaggers in front of his Northern troops gazing scornfully at the rag-tag bunch of youngsters left to defend what could be a critical point in the war.
Director (and co-scripter) John H. Lee took some liberties and creative licence, but there is no doubt that the true story of 71 students holding off a wave of Northern soldiers is a compelling one. Relationships besides the rivalry of the two main boys are a little scattered, due to the amount of characters marched across screen, and an early ‘cute nurse’ is blink-and-you-miss-her romance-relief. The Home Alone-style defence of the student soldiers is a little farcical, but their final battle is nothing but heart-wrenching and the beautifully-shot combat scenes make ample use of the rumoured $10 million budget.
Director Lee has been making some moves to Hollywood in recent years, and this film reads somewhat like an all-American CV – proving his capabilities with heart, story and action. However, despite some petty quibbles, 71 does everything a war movie should do: accurately relives the conflict, shows the bloodiness of battle, and, in the end, the futility and desolation of war.
71 – Into the Fire is available on DVD from 14th March 2011
- Format: Anamorphic, Colour, PAL, Subtitled, Widescreen
- Language English
- Subtitles: English
- Region: Region 2
- Number of discs: 1
- Classification: 15
- Studio: Cine-Asia
- DVD Release Date: 14th March 2011
- Run Time: 116 minutes