The Frontline was one of Korea’s biggest blockbusters last year,  recording over two million admissions in just 10 days in South Korea and was the country’s official entry to this year’s Academy Awards® for Best Foreign Language Film. It is a visceral dramatisation of the Korean war in 1953 and the events leading to its ceasefire. Director Jang Hun is concerned with the victims and their aggressors rather than, or not only with, tactical war strategies. In January 1953, Kang Eun-pyo (Shin Ha-kyun), from the C.I.C., a South Korean army division specializing in detecting and expelling 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.

Arriving at the frontline, Kang finds the small troop depressed as the promises they were given about the imminent ending of the war have proven to be false. Kang also discovers that officers have been engaging in exchanges of an illicit nature with the enemy. This element of the film shows the whole scenario of the Korean war with a human and compassionate touch. In fact the ineffectiveness of sacrifice is often symbolized by the main hill where the main action took place, which changed hands around 30 times in 18 months. The tacit bond between the two sides is brilliantly juxtaposed with war scenes where merciless soldiers take action, even toward one’s own comrades.

Jang Hun’s direction and Park Sang-yeon’s conventional but fine screenplay achieves the right balance between humanist anti-war sentiment and personal heroism. Jang’s intention is clearly geared towards downplaying the visual fireworks of war in favour of expressing its messy, senseless pandemonium.

Ko Soo is fantastic as Kim the stubborn, rule-breaking rebel.  Also the other soldiers display great aptitude when they need to go through difficult state of minds to endure a war that seems endless and useless (as wars are…).

Nicola Marzano

Format: Anamorphic, Dolby, HiFi Sound, Widescreen
Region: Region 2
Number of discs: 1
Classification: 18
Studio: Cine-Asia
DVD Release Date: 27th February 2012
Run Time: 128 minutes


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