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January 15, 2012

The Front Line

The-Front-LineSouth Korea’s impressive entry for the 2011 foreign-language Oscar race offers a different kind of war picture in its foreshadowed setting of the blood-soaked front line between North and South Korea during the 1950-53 war. Crafted with profound understanding of the war’s complexity, director Jang Hun makes palpable the wide range of emotions of soldiers caught up in a Sisyphean struggle of repeatedly winning and losing occupation of the strategically important Aerok Hill. The stench of death permeates the area where a strange aura of insanity pervades.

The death of a South Korean commander of the “Alligator Company,” by a regiment pistol, points to the possibility he was murdered by one of his soldiers. Lieutenant of Defense Security Command Kang Eun-pyo (Shin Ha-kyun) is sent to investigate the situation to discover if a mole is operating within the ranks of the beleaguered unit. Kang is surprised to discover that his former college buddy Kim Su-hyeok (Ko Soo) whom he believed killed in action has taken over command of Alligator Company. Other surprises follow. Kang finds that soldiers from both sides of the conflict have been exchanging gifts and notes in a kind of rough-hewn mailbox hidden in the floor of a bunker in the hill. Precisely articulated flashbacks fill in the blanks of Kang’s investigation even as the ongoing war ebbs and flows with unrelenting pitched battles. “The Front Line” emphasizes the theme that war itself is the enemy of all peoples. Being a soldier means committing suicide in an abstract and prolonged way for which there is no reasonable rationale. The film fills in an essential missing chapter in a war that is frequently overlooked.

“The Front Line” emphasizes the theme that war itself is the enemy of all peoples. Being a soldier means committing suicide in an abstract and prolonged way for which there is no reasonable rationale. The film effectively fills in an essential missing chapter in a war that has wrongfully been eclipsed in history books by the war in Viet Nam.

Not Rated. 133 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)

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