The Korean War has a more personal meaning to me than it does for some, because my father fought in that war. I’ve always been a little troubled by the lack of films depicting that war, while there are so many that depict all the other major wars of the twentieth century. The Korean War was brutal, and the human toll was terrible, and yet it’s called The Forgotten War. Some didn’t even consider it a war, but rather a police action, which is patently absurd.
In this film, Ha-kyun Shin plays a soldier named Kang Eun-pyo who works as an investigator, and close to the end of the war, he’s assigned to investigate the death of a unit captain, who was apparently shot by a gun that’s only used by officers, and also the source of some letters that were sent through the military mail system to relatives of North Korean soldiers who lived in the south. He travels out to the unit with the new captain (who turned out to be just as incompetent as the old captain), and a seventeen year old private who’s eager to fight to defend his country, but scared as well.
What Eun-pyo finds when he gets to the unit is not only surprising, but during his time there, he becomes an integral part of the unit, and they can use all the help they can get. They’ve been fighting with the North Korean army over this one piece of land called Aerok Mountain. The mountain has changed back and forth between the North and South Koreans some thirty or more times, and its only real importance is that it will determine where the territorial line is drawn between the North and the South. It’s become so routine for it to go back and forth, that in this one bunker, there is a box buried in the ground, and the North and South Korean soldiers would leave each other cigarettes, matches, wine, goggles, chocolate and other things in the box. This included the letters that they asked to be sent to their family members in the south.
In war, all you want to do is to survive, and to make sure your fellow soldiers survive while doing your best to fight for your country and follow orders, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I could go on and on with a long winded description of this film, because there is just so much involved and so many things that happen, I could never even begin to cover it all, so I’ll end the description here and get to the review.
I want you to pay really close attention to what I say here, because I mean this with all sincerity. This is not only the best war film I’ve ever seen, it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen period. This film drops you right into the middle of the Korean War. The realism presented in this film is unbelievable. It grabs you emotionally and makes you feel for these soldiers and their struggles. It gives you the feeling of being there, and depicts every aspect of war in gruesome detail. Everything from orphaned children being taken care of by the soldiers, including a little girl who lost her hand, the dilemma of how to deal with an incompetent officer that gets people killed, a soldier who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and would freak out now and then, another incredibly brave and capable, yet heroin addicted soldier who took up the role of acting captain while they waited for their new one to arrive and whose only concern was keeping his men alive. Then there’s the human element of the back and forth in the box between the North and South Korean soldiers. At one point early on, the seventeen year old private sang a very heartfelt and emotional song for the guys in his unit, and one of them made him write down the lyrics. Those were then passed in the box to the North Korean soldiers, which led to a very powerful and gut wrenching moment before the final battle that will almost bring tears to your eyes.
In short, if there’s ever been a finer and more realistic war film than this one, I’ve never seen it. You’ll feel emotionally drained when it’s over, and you’ll understand exactly why I could never really put into words how truly incredible this film is. You’ll just have to get yourself a copy and see it for yourself. There’s really nothing else to say. It’s not a film you’ll be able to watch frequently because it’s so emotionally draining, but it’s something I feel everyone should see if you truly want to understand war and what soldiers go though. Every war is different and presents its own set of challenges to the soldiers who fight in them. If you want to understand what was going on during the Korean war, this is the film to see. Brilliant is truly not a strong enough word to describe this film. I really don’t know how else to say it. The performances were amazing, the realism was incredible, and the story played out on an incredibly emotional level in so many ways. I’ve really never seen anything like it.
If you’d like to find out more about this film, check out its page on the Well Go USA website here, and if you’d like to grab a copy for yourself, you can get it from Amazon in a blu-ray + DVD combo pack here, or get the DVD release here.