Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Front Line (2011) reviewed (It's screening Tuesday)

Korea's submission to the Oscar's is also the first film in the Korean Cultural Service free screening of 2012.

Lets cut to the chase and get a few things out of the way:

First- If you live in the New York City area go see this film Tuesday when it plays at Tribeca. This is a solid little film that is not what you expect but is definitely worth your time.

Second- I'm not going to lie, this film doesn't have snowballs chance in hell of getting an Oscar nomination. Not because it's a bad movie, it's not, rather because it is so completely unlike what the Academy nominates that it doesn't stand a chance.

Third- I have to see the film again because the film truly confounded me and my expectations.

As the film opens it's 1953. The Korean Conflict is winding down. As the officials are negotiating the border between North and South Korea, a sticking point is the fact that one hill keeps changing sides. Day in and day out the will changes from North to South control and then back again. The line can't be drawn until they know who really has control of the hill.

Of course things aren't that easy, it seems that the company commander was shot in the back by a South Korean gun, and there are other things that aren't right. Attached to the new Commander is another soldier who is tasked with finding out what happened to the previous commander and what is really going on there.

I should add that as with several recent films from Korea (say the wonderful Moss) the events of today seem to be very much connected in what happened in the past;which in this case is 1950 and the early days of the war.

Everything I read except a piece on the Asian Oscar nominees from the New York Times has made this out to be largely a war film. Going into the film I was convinced that this was going to be a balls to the wall film on the order of Brotherhood of War. What I got, and what I should have expected is a film that mixes a war film, with mystery and social drama. Yes, there are some killer battle scenes, but there is a hell of a lot more going on than just fighting the enemy.

As I said at the top I don't expect those picking the Foreign Language Films for the Oscar will choose this for the final five. Say what you will I don't think they are going to know what to make of it. Here's a film that is by turns, funny, serious, mysterious, action packed, heart breaking, and thoughtful. Ultimately its a typical mix of genres that you'll find wonderfully bound up in many Korean films which delight those that are ready for their wonderful gumbo quality, but which confuse the hell out of people who don't know how to handle the many flavors.

To be honest I'm not sure I could handle all of the films flavors on the first viewing. I truly do like this film a great deal, but its a film that I fought with for a good chunk of the way. I fought with it so much because it wasn't doing what I thought it would that I really need to see it again. I need to see the film and be able to take it on it's own terms. I say this not as a criticism rather as warning. If you go see this film on Tuesday, and I think you should, I need you to go into the film open and receptive. Don't expect the film to be anything at any point other than what it is. Don't expect it to do anything other than what it does. If you can do this then I think you'll have a good time.

Forgive me I know I should say more but I don't know how to really explain this film. Its a mystery set on a battle field. It has political implications for those in the divided country and a decided strong anti-war stance. Its a film with some great large scale action set pieces and a humanity that seems odd in a big film like this. Its a film that is kind of like several different Hollywood films mashed together but ultimately is uniquely Korean.

To be fair, I probably should have made a second trip through the film before writing it up, but to do it I would have had to delay telling you to go see the film until after the free screening.

If you want to know what I really think of it, I think it's a good film. After careful consideration I don't think it's great, it has some greatness in it but the fact that it's trying to do too much almost defeats it. I also think that it because it's trying to do too much you should make an effort to see it (Its a rare film that is trying to do too much intelligently)

Go try it. And if you do see it Tuesday (or after that) let me know what you think.

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