[DVD Review] The Frontline 고지전 (2011) – South Korea

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 3rd September 2012
DVD Review Date: 9th November 2012
Released by Madman Entertainment on DVD and Blu-Ray

Jang Hun’s “The Frontline” is the Korean answer to Hollywood’s “Saving Private Ryan”. From start to finish, the film has all the elements and ingredients of an epic war melodrama and the film manages to deliver on all fronts and is easily alongside “Sunny”, the film of the festival (KOFFIA 2012).

There have been a lot of war epic movies made during the past decade, but none have delivered on the level that the latest from the excellent director Jang Hun (“Secret Reunion”) is able to achieve with “The Frontline”. It is a film that captivates the bloody and pointless years of the Korean War, where both the north and south soldiers simply do not know why they are fighting and what exactly they are fighting for. Fighting without a reason or cause is one of the hardest things to accept, let alone die for. Such is the premise of the film and director Jang Hun makes no mistakes and in turn created a film that the audience can feel, touch and emote with the circumstances of the characters and their devastating situations. “The Frontline” is a powerful film and the manner it is able to make an impact on the audience is quite amazing to watch. To call, “The Frontline” a great war epic with human emotions is by no means an understatement, but it is truly the film of the festival (KOFFIA 2012) and more importantly a masterpiece.

The film is extremely well shot and the soundtrack is top-notched. In particular the atrocious happenings at Pohang are especially affecting. The manner in which the director allows the brutal encounters to be shown as well as vividly depicting those more graphical scenes of bodies being blown off is agonizing to endure. The scene when the young private (played by David Lee) is shot by the sniper nicknamed “2 Seconds” (played by the beautiful Kim Ok-bin) is both painful and shocking, as the director focuses on the facial expressions of his comrades.

Both leading stars Shin Ha-kyun (“Joint Security Area”) and the incredibly charismatic Go Soo (“Haunters”) gave the performance of their lifetime in their respective role as First Lieutenant. Go Soo in particular impresses in the way he is able to depict someone who witness the harsh realities of war and there is depth in his eyes despite his cheerful outlook. Shin Ha-kyun, on the other hand juxtapose by presenting a stoic and serious character that play by the rules, but is ultimately blended by war itself. His silent interactions with the North’s sniper Kim Ok-bin shows a different side of Shin and remains central to the film. Once again, Ryoo Seung-ryong (“All About My Wife”) who plays the North Korea’s commander steals the spotlight and despite his minimal screen time, Ryoo is able show both the cold aspect of war and human heart that lies beneath. With Kim Ok-bin being the lone representative of her gender, Kim shows how war can dramatically change people and mute people of their feelings. Similarly, Lee Je-hoon tries insanely hard to forget pain and suffering through constant needle insertion of morphine. While Ko Chang-seok, a veteran of Jang Hun’s films provides a much needed comic presence.

All in all, “The Frontline” has all the hallmarks of perfect war epic. It is a powerful film that does not shy away from harsh, brutal realities of war and in particular a war is that not worth fighting. The Korean War like many other civil wars provides a lesson for all of us. Director Jang Hun is spot on in his strong focus on character development, the attention to details in the battle sequences as well as making the most of a brilliant soundtrack. By the end of the film, the audience is totally invested into the proceedings and resonates with the fate of each of the characters. “The Frontline” is exactly the kind of film that people venture into cinemas for. On a personal note, “The Frontline” is simply a masterpiece of a film. (Neo 2012)

I rated it 10/10

Special Features

Making of THE FRONT LINE
Extended promo trailer
Original trailer

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