71 - Into the Fire 포화 속으로
Korean War drama
2010, colour, 2.35:1, 119 mins
Directed by John H. Lee (이재한 | 李宰漢)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 08 November 2010, 17:46 PM (HKT)
Gritty Korean War drama delivers lots of action but not many engaging characters. Film weeks, plus niche theatrical.
Korean War, 8 August 1950. As the North overruns the peninsula during the early stages of the war, fierce street fighting takes place in the southeastern town of Pohang between South Korean troops led by Captain Gang Seok-dae (Kim Seung-woo) and North Korean troops led by General Park Mu-rang (Cha Seung-won). Though no reinforcements are sent by the hard-pressed South Korean army command, Gang and his men, including student soldier Oh Jang-beom (Choi Seung-hyeon), manage to escape to a girls' high-school building out of town that is being used as a field hospital. Gang is ordered to take his men and engage the North Koreans elsewhere, after blowing up a bridge to slow their advance. He deputises Oh to lead a group of 71 untrained student soldiers and defend the school at all costs. Oh finds his authority challenged by cocky recruit Gu Gab-jo (Kwon Sang-woo), an expert knife-thrower. Meanwhile, the North Koreans capture one of the student soldiers and General Park personally returns him to the school, under a flag of truce, urging the 71 not to throw away their lives on a pointless mission. Oh rejects his offer, and the student soldiers dig in to prepare for the North Koreans' assault on the school.
Starting with some grittily shot street fighting that's very reminsicent of Chinese war epic Assembly 集結號 (2007) — blood, mud and smoke-stained faces, cold desaturated colours, zinging bullets — and finishing with a last-ditch stand that's like a Korean War version of The Wild Bunch, there's no doubt that 71 - Into the Fire 포화 속으로 (2010) delivers the goods as a war movie. There's also plenty of action in between, with a realistic, dirt-under-the-fingernails look that's further enhanced by the sepia-tinged widescreen photography of CHOI Chan-min 최찬민, like an old photo turned yellow in the sun. All the money is up on the screen, with impressive vistas of advancing North Korean hordes, DPRK flags flying, and enough explosions and extras to paint a convincing portrait of a desperately fought war.
It's not on the same epic level as Taegukgi 태극기 휘날리며 (2003) but neither is it quite as gung-ho and nationalistic: the South is portrayed as pretty shambolic, while the North is shown to be much more organised and professional. It's when the movie gets down to business with the (true-life) story of the student-soldier militia's last stand that it starts to show its weaknesses as a drama. Director John H. LEE 이재한 | 李宰漢, an NYU Film School graduate, has always been better at packaging than content (New York crime drama The Cut Runs Deep 컷 런스 딥 (1999), Alzheimer's melodrama A Moment to Remember 내 머리 속의 지우개 (2004)), and likewise here. Dialogue doesn't go much more trenchant than: "Why is there war? Because people want peace."
The main problem is the character of cocky recruit Gu Gab-jo, who's straight out of a much more contemporary youth drama than one set almost 60 years ago. GWON Sang-u 권상우 | 權相祐 (Running Wild 야수 (2005)) plays him like a teenage wannabe gangster, turning the whole middle section of the film, as Gu challenges the authority of boyish leader Oh (well acted by CHOI Seung-hyun 최승현, aka T.O.P., from boy band Big Bang), into a Korean War equivalent of Spirit of Jeet Kune Do: Once Upon a Time in High School 말죽거리 잔혹사 (2003). It's the same strutting/bullying male behaviour familiar from so many South Korean movies and the anachronistic feel undercuts the otherwise lavish attempts at period flavour.
The other problem is that the film is dominated by the performance of CHA Seung-won 차승원 | 車勝元 (the memorable villain in police thriller Eye for an Eye 눈에는 눈 이에는 이 (2007)), as the philosophy-spouting, super-confident North Korean general. Kitted out in an all-white uniform, and walking round as if he's impregnable, Cha gets all the best lines and most of the audience's attention, further diluting the roles of the young heroes. Despite flashbacks to Oh's home life, and much uplifting music, the fate of the "71" fails to tug at the heartstrings inbetween the blood, bullets and attitudinising.
The film was known during production as Into the Gunfire.
ContactSales: Finecut, Seoul (email@example.com)
Theatrical release: South Korea, 16 Jun 2010.
Presented by Lotte Entertainment (SK), Taewon Entertainment (SK). Produced by Taewon Entertainment (SK), in association with UBU Film, H-Plus Communication. Executive producers: Jeong Tae-won, Son Gwang-ik. Producer: Jeong Tae-won.
Script: Lee Man-hui, Kim Dong-woo, John H. Lee. Adaptation: Jeong Tae-won. Photography: Choi Chan-min. Editing: Choi Min-yeong, Kim Chang-ju. Music: Lee Dong-jun. Production design: Choi Gi-ho. Sound: Park Jong-geun, Park Jun-oh. Action: Jeon Mun-shik. Visual effects: Kim Tae-hun (Next Visual Studio). Special effects: Jeong Do-ahn.
Cast: Cha Seung-won (General Park Mu-rang, North Korean), Gweon Sang-woo (Gu Gab-jo), Choi Seung-hyeon (Oh Jang-beom), Kim Seung-woo (Captain Gang Seok-dae), Kim Hye-seong (Yong-man), Gu Seong-hwan (Nam-shik), Shin Hyeon-tak (Dal-yeong),Mun Jae-won (Yong-bae), Kim Dong-beom (Jae-seon), Kim Yun-seong (Poong-cheon), Park Jin-hui (Hwa-ran, the nurse), Kim Seong-ryeong (Jang-beom's mother), Yun Seung-hun (Platoon 1 leader Hwang Chang-woo), Tak Teu-in (Wang-pyo), Kim Ho-won (Platoon 2 leader Park Byeong-tae), Kim Han-jun (Gwang-il), Jo Joong-hwi (Bang-hun), Park Tae-ju (Jeon Won-chaek), Jo Won-hui, Kim Dong-shin (divisional commanders), Ra Gyeong-deok (Li An-nam), Hwang Jun-yeong (Kim Jun-seob), Kim Tae-hwan (General Park's aide-de-camp, North Korean), Kim Jun-pyo (petty officer), Im Yeong-shik, Kim Han (Captain Gang's aides-de-camp), Park Gyeong-ho, Kim Seung-hwan (soldiers under Captain Gang), Kim Chang-jun (divisional commander's adviser), Jeong Cheol, Ji Chang-hun (divisional commander's strategy officers), Jang Mun-seok (Company 4 commander), Choi Min, Lee Bong-gu (army officers, North Korean), Jeong Seung-won (child soldier, North Korean), Jo Yi-sam, Ju Dong-hui (lorry soldiers, North Korean), Lee Seung-geun (Sergeant Choi Cheol-nam), Ron Lubosco, Derek Werner (photographers), Kim Woo-hyeok, Gang Dong-ju, Gang Pil-seon, Go Eun-chong, Gong Byeong-hyeon, Gi Se-hyeong, Kim Gyeong-ju, Kim Gwang-yeong, Kim Dae-yeon, Kim Dong-yun, Kim Deuk-gyeom, Kim Su-ho, Kim Seung-hun, Kim Shin-il, Kim Ju-hun, Kim Jin-ho, Kim Hui-woom, Nam Tae-boo, Min Gyeong-cheon, Park Rang, Park Ho-yun, Song Eun-seong, Shin Gyeong-seon, Ahn In-sul, Ahn Jae-hyeon, Eom Tae-woo, Oh Seong-su, Woo Dong-gyu, Wi Ji-woong, Yu Gwang-woo, Lee Dong-jun, Lee Dong-hun, Lee Seong-mun, Lee Se-jin, Lee Ji-hwang, Im Ha-neul, Jang Min-jun, Jang Won-hyeok, Jang Hyeon-geun, Jeon In-geol, Jeong Gyeong-il, Jeong Jeong-nam, Jeong Jun-hyeok, Jeong Hwi-seong, Ji Min-gu, Chae Ho-byeong, Choi Hyeon-seok, Hwang Se-jeong, Hwang Yu-hyeon (student soldiers), Yeom Hye-ran, Park Ro-sa, Jo Hui, Jeong Gyeong, Cha Jae-yeong, Ji Ye (nurses), David Lee McInnis (Staff Sergeant Jones), Baek Seong-hui, Kim Man-gyu, Son Ju-hyeong (themselves, witnesses at end).