Published Jan 19, 2012Seemingly, the rationale behind submitting the heavy-handed Korean War drama, The Front Line, for Best Foreign Film consideration at the Oscars is its overwhelmingly familiar, traditionally American tropes. It mixes the nitty-gritty aesthetics of the Korean conflict in the early '50s with a melodramatic haze of battle-torn soldiers facing an existential void, relying on broad notions of brotherhood and male bonding (read: homoerotic ideation) for narrative cohesion.
This is a formula that has snagged Oscar attention in the past (Saving Private Ryan), but is way too passé to raise much of an eyebrow now, especially when we're in the age of widely misinterpreted postmodern satires of gender performance like The Hurt Locker.
It's a shame, since early in Jang Hun's mud-drenched, washed-out drama there's a hint of plot complexity and mystery when counterintelligence officer Kang (Shin Ha-kyun) is sent to the front lines ― essentially a hill that lies on the border of North and South Korea ― to investigate a possible mole after doling out some politically hazy commentary. There, he runs in to an old friend and fellow prisoner of war (Ko Soo), leading to an abundance of tedious conversation and reminiscing, which propels the plot away from any sort of mystery or intricacy.
The reunited friends fight together, bonding with their ragtag team of caricatures, who occasionally dress up as women, pretend to drink (they have only water) and listen to the effeminate one sing war songs in falsetto. It's how they break up their time over the years while repeatedly winning and losing the exact same terrain, ostensibly waiting to die while bureaucrats far away negotiate.
Amidst the array of clichés and amusingly on-the-nose conversations, some inspired imagery cuts in, showing bodies climb and fall over the same mountainous terrain via a series of dissolves, letting the picture sell the didactics.
But by the time the soldiers are driven insane, making fun of a child amputee for asking if her arm will grow back, the genre posturing and redundancy make it a bit of a moot point. (Well Go USA)