71: Into the Fire (2010) ☆1/2 (1.5/4) : Awful Hollowness based on a real-life war story

Fortunately, “71: Into the Fire”, officially released on last Thursday in South Korea, is not the bottom of the barrel. But still, it’s near the bottom of the barrel. The movie is not as ideologically repulsive as I feared, but this is awfully hollow without any clear direction, let alone clear emotions. The result is one of the worst war movies since “Pearl Harbor” and one of few saving graces of “71: Into the Fire” is that it’s one-hour shorter than that. The war is hell, the war is a mess, but the war movie must not be a mess at any chance.

 After crossing the 38 parallels on June 25th in 1950, North Korean military relentlessly advanced toward the south while capturing Seoul and several major cities except Pusan within a month. They seemed to be near the victory, and South Korean military fought at all cost at the last front line of the Nakdong River to protect Pusan with nowhere else to step behind while desperately waiting for UN troops(As one commander points out in the movie, they would have had no option except jumping into the sea if the line had been broken down). The Battle of Pusan Perimeter was one of the most turbulent moments of Korean war, and many of South Korean soldiers sacrificed their lives. It’s inarguable that our generation owed them a lot for our freedom and prosperity and more.

 The movie is based on the one of the combats that actually happened during that time. Because other soldiers must go to Pusan Perimeter, the bunch of boy soldiers, freshly drafted by South Korean military, are left to defend the front line near the city named Pohang at the small school building of countryside. Soon, North Korean soldiers led by their ruthless, charismatic leader(Seung-won Cha) is approaching to their place for the strategic advantage. These young students, little experience and little resource, must secure their front line no matter how.

 Before leaving them, The commanding officer(Seung-woo Kim) appoints one of boy soldiers, Jang-Bum(Korean pop star T.O.P), to be the leader of these young soldiers only because he has recently gotten the first taste of battle. Jang-Bum is not so confident about his new role, and so do other soldiers, including some antagonizing bully and his gangs. They cannot accept Jang-bum as the leader at first, but, with massive menace coming toward them minute by minute, they really have to stick together to protect their country and, maybe, to save themselves.

 A good setting for war movie, but the movie ruins this in every possible way despite having lots of good things to utilize. Sometimes it reaches to the level of the amusement, mixed with lots of annoyance. I don’t mind about simple black & white situation depicted in the movie, but the characters in the movie are the battalion of cardboards. They are mainly the pawns manipulated by the terrible script with awful dialogues, and no depth is given to any of them. Only Jang-bum is given some space, but that is usually decorated with cringe-inducing, yellow light-coated flashbacks about his mother. There is no convincing character development, and we don’t care about the characters at all. In fact, I was glad to see some characters dispatched during the movie.

 Above all, the movie is repulsive with its alarming shallowness. The director Ja-Han Lee seems to only care about making the movie look nice without any consideration to the story itself – if it ever exists. For example, there is the scene where the commander blows up the bridge while desperate refugees wanting to cross over it. My god, the movie cares far more about the big explosion than the desperation of common people. How spectacularly good it looks!

 The massive budget behind the production is clearly shown on the screen, but, oh boy, how clumsy these action sequences are. It seems like to have been made with the thought that only explosions and shaky camera works are everything. I’m sure I can make a better experience at my mother’s kitchen.

 In the end, so-called big payoff comes as the entertainment, and we see two main characters(I don’t have to tell you who they are) valiantly do Rambo things at the top of the building while North Korean soldiers become more like zombies. It won’t be a serious matter if it tries to be like “Inglourious Basterds”. However, when the movie sets out to be as serious as “Saving Private Ryan”, that is just like the kiss of death.

 Last week, I watched another Korean War movie “Tae Guk Gi” for the comparison, and I think I should have been more generous to that. There still are several things I do not like, but “Tae Guk Gi” is technically and emotionally engaging overall and, above all, has the sincerity behind it. “71: Into the Fire” has none of these virtues, although it has a miraculously(considering the bad script) competent performance by T.O.P., a scenery-chewing presence of Seung-won Cha, and lots of, lots of noises and explosions.

 Right or Left, you can’t deny that “71: Into the Fire” is insultingly paper-thin war movie made by hands as inexperienced as these young noble soldiers. You’ll probably think that they will be rolling around in their graves for this. Believe me, if some of boys in the movie had shouted “Wolverine!”, it would have been much more entertaining. What the hell, the movie will make money – that’s a depressing thing.

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11 Responses to 71: Into the Fire (2010) ☆1/2 (1.5/4) : Awful Hollowness based on a real-life war story

  1. S M Rana says:

    What is the best movie about the Korean war? You have done a nice demolition job here.

    • kaist455 says:

      Unfortunately, there has not been the equivalent of “Platoon” for our war yet. In case of Korean movies, I recommend you “Tae Guk Gi”. Although this is not a great movie and I don’t love it, renting it won’t be the waste of your time. I heard about several Korean War movies before the 1990s, but I haven’t seen them and they are not available on VHS or DVD.

      While Korean War is not their main point, “MASH” and “The Manchurian Candidate” are very incorrect about Korean War and Korea in several details. But they are excellent enough to be forgiven.

  2. litdreamer says:

    You know, you write reviews better in English than some people who speak English as their first language. Example: “It seems like to have been made with the thought that only explosions and shaky camera works are everything. I’m sure I can make a better experience at my mother’s kitchen.”

    I mean, that’s just priceless!

    If the only reason for this movie’s release was for such a post as this, it would be enough reason for its existence. Though I would hope that all box office receipts would go to you, since it sounds like the film doesn’t deserve them.

  3. chan says:

    Yeah… I am very curious what my grandpa would say when he sees the movie especially since he was in the war…
    I kinda don’t wanna say that its a terrible movie because I’m a Korean but it really isn’t anything deep or engaging…
    A document about this event would be very nice though…

    SC: Fortunately, I nearly forgot this movie and moved on to other movies.

  4. Jan says:

    Too much personal opnions of yours that perhaps lack of general overview..

    SC: And too much short opnions of yours that perhaps lack of specific overview..

  5. tiffany says:

    i know that everyone has their own opinion but you seem to be really close minded and really sure of urself… all movies overexaggerate. why? because although film is art, it also has to sell. i just don’t understand why you would have so much hate for it. i didn’t love it but it did get many of the facts right. i’m guessing that journalism isn’t the way for you. you’re way too biased.

    SC: Oh, yes, I did not study journalism.

  6. ray says:

    It’s vey offending when you describe this movie’s plot as being “predictable” and when you also make the assertion that the actors were cast for their looks and not their acting abilities. First, you must be pretty ignorant and oblivious to not realize that this movie is based off actual events in the Korean War – obviously, the plot might seem predictable to some people because it’s based off “real events”. I mean what do you expect? These 71 soldiers were attacked by an entire battalion of soldiers, the odds were not exactly in their favor of surviving this attack by the North Koreans. Second, the purpose of this film is not to become some variation of a Big Hollywood film, rather it’s paying tribute to these brave high school aged soldiers who fought and died for their country in a heroic attempt to stop the North Korean advance. Also, it is shedding light on one of the most forgotten wars in our recent history – the Korean War, which should be honored and commemorated way more often. Third, the actors were awesome including TOP. Their acting was top notch and was very moving. You must be blind and ignorant not to realize that these actors put on a superb performance.

    SC: I did not write that it is predictable. Maybe war movies mostly have “preditable” plotlines, but good ones surprise me, engage me, and move me. By the way, Sir, didn’t you notice that I recognized the acting ability of TOP, who retained his dignity in this tepid war movie?

    • ray says:

      i find the movie great… maybe because i was surprised of T.O.P.’s acting. man ,he’s getting better!! it is his first lead role and i was afraid he might not reach my expectations but he goes beyond it. i don’t agree on pure eye candy though. eye candy! yes, coz top stars are casted in it but they did well!

      so let me start with T.O.P. (jang bum): although he rarely said words, his eyes presented excellent emotions. the first minutes of the movie showed how he is so scared that even a single bullet can’t be loaded to a gun.his character showed that you can lead even if you ain’t the toughest. “lead by heart” per se!

      sang woo (kap jo): the brash decisions leading to the danger of his fellow troops safety; the aura of being the toughest in the group ; his character showed it. he is the complete opposite of jang bum!

      seung won( NK commander): a certain characteristic is shown… treat somebody as to how they are supposed to be treated. there wwas a very brief part of him holding a picture with his son. that alone explained why he tried to “save” the students.

      seung woo(sk officer): a promise is a promise! he even fought with his superior for those students!

      somewhat it’s predictable that they all have to die in the movie… and i agree that there’s lots of elements shown about war . yes, the last part wherein all nk soldiers who tried to visit the rooftop are easily defeated was quite unbelieving since only two not so experienced student soldiers are the enemy but aside from that, it’s a great movie!it moved me and that’s all i need…

      SC: It’s good to know that you had a great time with it, anyway

  7. yuki says:

    Hm… yeah. You’re probably right about the bad script and all of that. But I love this movie. I don’t think its the best movie I’ve ever seen, it has quite a few problems with it (one of the things was the very modern watch that the North Korean general guy was wearing??I laughed at it) but it moved me. I cried when seeing those boys having hope in their eyes when they got their photograph taken when you knew they had all died. That was good moving filmography. So while it could have been better, the whole film shouldn’t be disregarded because there are several good things about it too, things that 80% of films I’ve seen have failed to contain.
    Besides, I never would have even known about these brave boys if it weren’t for this film.

    SC: “The Front Line”(2011) is a far better film about the same subject, by the way.

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