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.