Spotlight on Asian Cinema presents The Front Line

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Hun Jang

Website: The Front Line

Review Rating: 7

Set during the final years of the Korean War, a particular Hill in hotly contested territory tells the hidden story of war between the North and South.

The film is Korean, this already means it’s going to be as tragic and depressing as possible. I’ve actually lived in that country so I can tell you, the movie has all of that correct. However, strong storytelling and a surprising sense of empathy, for both the story inside the film and the audience having to experience it with them, carry off the movie in a surprisingly memorable way. You’re not just left going, oh that’s so sad.

So it is a film more or less stuck on the North and South sides of Koreaduring the war, and shows us vivid scenes from the POV of both. No one particular person or group is shown to be right, that is, the actual good guy vs. the bad guy scenario. Even the sharpshooter from what I think is the North side, the one they call Two Seconds (because you take a bullet and hear the crack of the gun two seconds after that), who actually happens to be a girl. I’m not entirely sure on the accuracy of that, given the rather male-dominated society of Korea, but hey, maybe they saw it like Israel does – use whatever advantage in war you have. So there’s this particular hill out there on the hotly contested border between North and South, and even while peace negotiations are supposedly being debated, the Hill is still a point of contention and both armies want it. That damn Hill has been taken and retaken by both sides for so long, matter of fact, that certain companies of the North and South armies have started this odd little tradition – in a bunker under the Hill, they leave things for eachother buried in the floor – photos, letters home, alcohol if you’ve got it, matches, smokes, even pranks. In the beginning this leads to the happiest moments of the movie – hey, I’m alive, they enemy hasn’t gotten me yet, and here, they left me some matches so I can have a smoke. Cool. Unfortunately it’s those same few celebratory moments that hurt the worst towards the end, when peace has finally finally been declared after three long years of nothing but endless fighting, that make the final battle for the ownership of that damned Hill that much worse. When you now know your enemies name and have shared a drink with him, at least in spirit if not in deed, seeing a Hill literally mounded of his dead is just the worst.

Not necessarily my kind of movie, The Front Line is nevertheless a truly handsome bit of storytelling cinema, and I will tip my hat to the filmmakers, for being able to make such a powerful story without flinching, if nothing else.

 

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