Run time: 120 min
Director: John H. Lee
Writers: Man-Hee Lee, Dong-Woo Kim
Stars: Seung-won Cha, Sang-woo Kwon, Seung Hyun Choi
The story of student-soldiers trying to protect a middle school during the early days of the Korean War.
|Plot Keywords: korean war, ultimatum, ambush, fight to the death, last stand|
Country: South Korea
Release Date: 16 June 2010 (South Korea)
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I do enjoy watching war films, especially true stories, as they generally depict the horrors of war. Right from the start I was hooked, and was not disappointed.
It is a pity films from Korea, Japan, China, and other oriental countries are not included in the Oscars or bafta awards, but then America and Britain wouldn't have so many winners.
This film is typical of this as it has some great acting and is filmed extremely well. It also shows you don't need a budget like that of some Hollywood movies. The biggest thing for me is that it is a true story and is dramatised well. Without being too political, with the ongoing problems in Korea, they could have made the North out to be animals, but they don't.
For a film that probably wont be mentioned at the big ceremonies, it is a loss for film-making. I would highly recommend this film if you haven't seen it yet. Would love to see Britain make films as good as this, but I haven't seen many, recently, that comes close. That is just my opinion though.
As with all films though, don't go by opinion, watch it and decide by yourself, but I think you will enjoy the movie.
War film action junkies sit up and take note, as 71: Into the Fire should be written into your books as a must watch if you haven't already made plans to do so. Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan may have set the bar and raised expectations many years ago with regards to the use of strained colours and realistic war violence being portrayed on screen, and in recent years even China too got into the act through Feng Xiaogang's The Assembly. While tales of heroism during WWII have been aplenty done by filmmakers from the West, I can only think of a handful done in the East to meet that kind of scale. This is one of them.
Directed by John H. Lee, the basis of the film reported came from a letter from one of the 71 deceased South Korean student soldiers, which chronicled their Alamo experience and moment as the few who had to stand up to the invading North Korean masses in very David and Goliath measures. Tasked with the strategically important defense of Pohang while the rest of what's left of the South Korean army and UN coalition defended the Nakdong River area, this is not 300 where a group of battle hardened soldiers led by King Leonidis tragically fended off the huge Persian army, but a group of rag tag students with little military experience being told to hold their ground for 2 hours against a fanatical, professional army before reinforcements arrive.
You can feel the sense of urgency and desperation throughout the film, as Lee doesn't forget to remind you how dire the situation was, with the tremendous loss of territory over a period of four months to the North Korean forces sledgehammering its way down south, and the reliance of students to take up arms in what could have been a tactical lesser of two evils. The UN Coalition is stretched thin, and the makeshift Captain of the ragtag student group, soft spoken Oh Jung-Bum (T.O.P), has some serious growing up to do if he is to lead the students, being one of three who have had some combat experience. Making things difficult is the inclusion of criminals like Kap-Jo (Kwon Sang Woo) who's just happy to be out of prison to lend his weight to the fight, but as with any army that requires discipline, here is one man and his two lieutenants who prefer the contrary.
From the get go you'll get thrown thick into the action with loud gunfire and pretty much everything exploding on screen from artillery and other big guns fire, as Jung-Bum wanders around his battalion doing errands like topping up and delivery of magazines and rounds to soldiers, only to find his side of the forces constantly retreating, and being caught up in a life and death situation. Clearly not the hero he thinks he could be, he soon gets sent packing into a truck and again the North, under the leadership of Commander Park Mu-Rang (Cha Seung-Won), is triumphant and merciless in their taking of additional territory.
More set action sequences are to follow, and each are carefully crafted to reap maximum effect for the film-goer as we root for the student soldiers as they stand their ground, and rely on their street smarts to come up with some form of defense system to protect their minuscule turf. While luck has them chancing upon caches of abandoned weapons, improvisation meant the welcoming of Molotov cocktails (still a weapon of choice for guerrilla styled riots), and various forms of gas/fuel+fire combination. Not being military strategists, the students are susceptible to the oldest trick in the book like ambushes, and each challenge they come up toward meant a reduction in their already pathetic numbers.
Perhaps it is their making of such naive mistakes that draw in on the harshness of war, where director Lee doesn't spare us much of the gory details from bursting wounds and machine gun fire from up close ripping up bodies. As the adage goes, don't die for your country but make the other bastard die for his. However this film depicts Koreans killing Koreans, so therein lies an opportunity to address some of this insanity why people ought to be killing their own comrades and countrymen, even having the North Korean commander at times exhibiting being a maverick willing to go against battle orders, albeit to satisfy his bruised ego that had been wounded by a bunch of students against his own troops.
There's no lack of drama and tension as well, brought on when Jung-Bum and Kap-Jo have to go head to head in order to earn each other's mutual respect, but before that the gangsters' shenanigans prove to be running against the grain of the student soldier's mission. For Jung- Bum, we witness how he matures from boy to man, while Kap-Jo learns about responsibility and what it means to be counted upon, in contrast to his selfish ways since the enemy is now real and right at their doorstep. Unfortunately while this film has 71 student soldiers split into two platoons, realistically you're not going to have to get to know all of them, so only these two fly the character development flag for the rest.
Well made with excellent production values and sets depicting the state of war affairs during the Korean War, 71: Into the Fire will go into my books as one of the best this year in its genre. Highly recommended, especially when viewed on the big screen!
The movie is great because they did not try to make it huge: it was just telling a simple story about 71 young student learning and struggling in the real war.
The main actor: Choi Seung Hyeon (who is also known as TOP in Big Bang) did a great job. He acts impressively with his eyes, showing us how a student knowing nothing becomes to get to fight, to kill for the sake of his own team. Other actors did not show the best of them, especially Kwon Sang Woo. He could do better than that, but I feel that the character he played was not fully described. The music was not very impressive to me, however the effect was quite real and well-done for a Asian war movie. Since this is based on a true story, the end can easily be predicted, but that does not mean it was a boring end. They show us how people die in war: they may have different backgrounds but still can become real soldier once needed.
I have been waiting for this movie to be released in the US ever since I saw the trailer on Youtube.com last month and read all the hype. Plus, one of my favorite Korean actors, Cha Seung Won, is one of the four leads. This guy can do it all–comedy and drama, and he does not disappoint as the North Korean commander in this movie. This is the first time I have seen him on a big movie theatre screen and the camera loves him. DVD rentals on my TV are not quite the same–too bad more Korean films don't get US theatrical releases. Also giving excellent performances were Kim Seung Woo and Choi Seung Hyun–two actors who I first saw in last year's Kdrama, "Iris". Rounding out the lead actors is Kwon Sang Woo–another good performance and my first time seeing him in a theatrical film. All the supporting roles were also very well cast. If one likes war movies, this one is not to be missed–especially since it is based on a true incident during the Korean War. Direction, sets, costumes, music–all were well done. This film merits more than one viewing at the movie theatre.