In the final decisive battles of The Korean War, the battle-worn armies of North and South Korea face a brutal deadlock on the rugged Aerok Hills. Fears of treachery and collusion with enemy forces trigger an investigation into the men of the South Korean Alligator Company. A veteran intelligence officer accepts the assignment and discovers mysterious and tragic occurrences surrounding a former comrade he had long thought dead. In the epic battle for survival that follows, the two men become locked in a deadly battle of wills. One will sacrifice his humanity for the sake of his 'brothers', the other will discover compassion in the agonies of war. Ultimately, both will be forced to fight side-by-side, so their loved ones can enjoy freedom for just one more day...
‘The Front Line’ is a war movie, that much is true. But this is set in Korea, specifically in Aerok Hills, where South Korea’s Alligator company is assigned and their lives are constantly in danger: a North Korean sniper is successfully putting their soldiers down, the Northerners taunt them for fighting alongside Americans, and within the company itself, misfits abound. Soldiers are shooting up morphine, slacking off, and just blasé about the whole situation.
So Kang Eunpyo (Shin Ha-kyun), an intelligent officer is sent to report on the Alligator company’s activities. He also then finds his old friend Kim Suhyeok (Ko Soo), whom he thought has already been dead, but is really alive and yet, has totally changed. His eyes are blank but there is fire within him, what was once a mild-mannered boy is now a trigger-happy young man.
Directed by Jang Hun, written by Park Sang-yeon, and photographed by Kim Woo-hyung, ‘The Front Line’ presents war with a melodramatic feel a la ‘Saving Private Ryan’. An interesting way to show the divide between the North and South Koreas is through color, and it works, and yet it seems too simple to distinguish what is black or white. ‘The Front Line’ bares a little resemblance to Clint Eastwoods ‘Letters to Iwo Jima’ because its soldiers have an air of confusion and malaise that is prevalent among them. The question of the necessity of war is also hard sell and even so, it matters. War is indeed anomalous, who would say otherwise?
‘The Front Line’ is South Korea’s entry to the Best Foreign Film Oscar and for good reason: it has all the elements of epic landscapes, high-stakes drama, fine acting, and even sentimentality that truly scream Oscar bait. Also one of the highest-grossing movies of 2011 in South Korea, the movie will not disappoint those who would reach for the Kleenex, but if you’re in for the war action, well, there are explosions here and there, gunfire sometimes. No one on Aerok Hills is exactly over-excited and ready to charge.