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Front Line, The (Blu-ray Review)

5 May, 2012 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Well Go USA
Box Office $0.01 million
$24.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray
Not rated.
In Korean with English subtitles.
Stars Shin Ha-kyun, Go Soo.

The setting is the final days of the Korean War (1953), and southern counterintelligence officer Kang (Shin Ha-kyun) is sent to the front line to investigate the mysterious death (by his own gun) of Alligator Company’s former commander, which the brass suspects could have come at the hands of a mole working for the Chinese-backed North.

Upon arrival, Kang discovers that a friend Kim (Go Soo) thought to have died has instead assumed command of dysfunctional Alligator Company — largely through battlefield tenacity (he has no fear) rather than stripes earned.

What follows in excellent The Front Line is less military whodunit than cinematic showcase underscoring the insanity, futility and horror each side endures (mortar attacks, grenades, machine gun fire, hand-to-hand combat) attempting to claim the Aerok Hills region in Eastern Korea — it changed sides more than 30 times during the war — before a truce in the hostilities is declared.

While its buddy-film aspect has been seen before in Hamburger Hill, Gallipoli (with a young Mel Gibson) and Platoon, among others, The Front Line stands out, thanks to director Jang Hun’s “in the trenches” visual narrative (especially vivid on Blu-ray), strong cast and humanity shown toward opposing forces.

When the identity of North Korean sniper “Two Second” is revealed, and the casualties — in all their gore — mount indiscriminately, Kang realizes that war is indeed hell. As if he had any doubt.

The making-of bonus featurette lags, considering The Front Line was South Korea’s official best foreign-language film submission at the most recent Academy Awards (it wasn’t nominated).

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