Pohwasogeuro (71: Into the Fire) (2010)
Director: John H. Lee.
Starring: Seung-won Cha, Sang-woo Kwon, Seung-woo Kim, Christina Cha (War nurse), Seung Hyun Choi (Oh Jung-Bum), Seung-won Jeong (Army boy), Dong-beom Kim, David Lee McInnis (Staff Sergeant Jones), Tae-ju Park (Won-chaek Jeon), Vadim Scott (US Soldier), Ji-wung Wi (Student soldier).
student-soldiers try to protect a middle school during the early days of the Korean War
"This film is based on an actual event." "On August 15th, 1945, Korea gets liberated. The South gets under U.S. and the North under Soviet influences. June 25th, 1950, the North Korean People's Army makes a surprise attack on the South. The North occupies Seoul in three days and the rest in forty days, except for the area south of Nakdong River. Far outnumbered, many students joined the South Korean army as volunteer soldiers."
[The Nakdong River is the largest river in South Korea (506 kilometers or 314 miles). Most of southeast South Korea is east of the Nakdong River. The southern length of the river formed the western portion of the Pusan Perimeter, which the UN forces fought to maintain during the autumn of 1950. The bridge over the Nakdong River at Waegwan was blown up on August 3, 1950 in an effort to prevent North Korean forces from advancing on Daegu. For the most part, the river marks North Korea's furthest advance.]
A South Korean soldier tells a student volunteer to go to the 3rd platoon on the Gaesung Store rooftop! The North Koreans are rapidly flowing into the area and the situation gets more and more dangerous.
Captain Kang in charge of the 3rd platoon is instructed to retreat or his whole unit will be wiped out. Kang says he thinks they can beat the North Koreans. It looks like a whole army of tanks and soldiers are headed toward Captain Kang. Kang goes over to Lt. Kim and tells him to backup the 3rd platoon. "Fight them off no matter what."
The student volunteer is nearly killed when an explosion throws a jeep way up into the air. When it comes back down to the ground the entire jeep explodes in huge flames. The student is bleeding from his ears. He sees South Korean soldiers yelling at him, but he can't hear anything they are saying to him. He finally is able to get up and move. He makes it to the rooftop. The machine gunner is doing a marvelous job of killing the North Korean soldiers below him in the streets, but he is nearing the end of his ammo. The student arrives just in time. The young fellow heads back, but then sees from the street how a bazooka blows the men down from the rooftop. They land with a thud on the ground.
Lt. Kim Jun-seop grabs the student and pulls him into an alley. He tells the inexperienced student to keep behind him. A little later he tells Jung-bum to stay back! Everyman with the Lieutenant is killed or wounded and now the Lieutenant is wounded and then bayoneted. Jung-bum tries to kill the North Korean soldier, but his weapon isn't even loaded. He has to find a bullet and put it in the chamber of the rifle. As he is doing this, other South Korean soldiers arrive and shoot the North Korean. The Lieutenant still lives. Jung-bum feels very badly about not being able to help him.
The North Korean commander arrives in the area. Captain Lee Myung-guk salutes him. The commander wonders why they still can't break through this area. He then orders Unit 766 to finish fighting and head to Pohang, now! [Pohang is on the east coast of South Korea, northeast of Daegu. Pohang's road arteries and shipping port made it a place of strategic significance during the Korean War.] As for the rest of them, kill everyone of the enemy in front of them. The assault begins again. And now the South Koreans are suffering heavy casualties.
Flashback. Jung-bum remembers when he first got onto the back of an army truck as a volunteer. Many mothers were crying their eyes out on that day. Thousands and thousands of refugees were on the roads headed south.
Back to the present. The North Koreans have taken the city. A messenger, Commissar Lee An-nam, informs the commander: "Our political leader is ordered to go to battle at Nakdong River at once." The commander asks why should he go there? He says he's heading straight for Pohang. He has the clout to do as he says. On the day he left Pyungyang, their Great Supreme Commander, ordered him to seize Busan before August 15th!" [Busan is located on the southeastern-most tip of the Korean peninsula. It was one of only two cities in South Korea not captured by the North Korean army within the first three months of the Korean War.]
The South Koreans prepare to blow a bridge over the Nakdong River. The bridge is exploded, stranding many thousands of refugees on the far bank of the river.
Jung-bum sticks right with Lt. Kim. He applies pressure to the Lieutenant's wound trying to hold the blood back. The truck arrives at the hospital and Jung-bum stays right by his patient all the way to the hospital bed. The Lieutenant dies on the stretcher. A nurse sees Jung-bum just kneeling by the empty space where his captain once struggled for his life. She goes over to help him. Jung-bum looks at her, gets up and takes off. There are hundreds of dead bodies lined up outside the hospital. The nurse follows Jung-bum. He grabs his bloody left ear in pain. The nurse treats his wounds. She tells him that his eardrums are ruptured. She asks him several questions but he remains silent. She stitches up his left forearm that has a nasty gash in it.
Captain Kang arrives at the hospital and asks what happened to Kim Jun-seop? He was killed in action. This upsets Kang. He goes into see his superior officer and asks why they weren't send their back-up forces? He also wants to know when are the Allies' forces coming? Kang says he's tired of retreating. And where will they stop running? When they reach the Korea Strait? The superior officer says he didn't have any troops to send to the Captain. He adds that their 3rd Division will go to battle at Nakdong River immediately. The North has their 5th, 12th and 15th Divisions swarming to Nakdong. "Nakdong River will be a pool of blood. . . . It's our last line of defense." Then who will protect Pohang here? Good question.
More student volunteers arrive. Captain Kang goes outside to look at the students. He sees Jung-bum sitting there and asks if he's the student who was with Lt. Kim when he died? Yes. The Captain then asks the young fellow his name.
An official asks the Captain if he would take two students accused of murder? The Captain sends the two in with the rest of the students. The official says that one of the boys' parents were killed by the Commies and he's just itching to get revenge.
The Captain goes to speak to the students. There are 68 new students and 3 existing ones making for a total of 71 student soldiers. Jung-bum is one of the three existing student soldiers. The Captain tells the three to give each student soldier a rifle and 250 bullets.
The Captain explains that the student soldiers will divided into two platoons. The student Captain will be Oh Jung-bum. Their job will be to protect the hospital and the surrounding area. The students want to know if Pohang is so important why are al the regular soldiers leaving to go fight at Nakdong? The Captain says: "Pohang is important, but if we loose the battle at Nakdong, we're all dead."
Jung-bum sees the nurse again. She reminds him to be careful not to burst his stitches.
Captain Kang now has to leave with his remaining men headed for Nakdong. He tells the student Captain to bury the dead. Jung-bum tells the Captain that he can't be the student Captain. He is not the leader type. Captain Kang tells him to let them see through to his heart and his sincerity and they will follow him.
The North Korean commander arrives at the demolished bridge. He says the shock troops will swim across the river. The tank unit will have to go around the mountain. The shock troops head down to the river and then into it.
When Jung-bum tries to run the outfit, he is immediately challenged by the rougher of the two murderers. Two of the students with Jung-bum say something, but Jung-bum doesn't say anything. The students, however, do the burying of the corpses. Quite a few of them get sick and throw up.
The students are going to get one shot for their rifle training. The first group of shooters fire their weapons off accidentally, taking them by surprise. The bully, name Kap-jo, and his crew continue to show disrespect to Jung-bum and the Captain still says nothing.
One of the guys finds a grenade and starts fooling around with it. Then the idiot pulls out the pin. He tosses the grenade to one of the bullies, but the fellow throws it right back to him. So now the guy throws it into a big wash tub filled with potatoes. All three stooges manage to get out of the building before the grenade goes off. The explosion throws potatoes all over the area. And now there are only three sacs of potatoes and two sacs of corn left. Kap-jo tells everyone not to worry for he and the grenade thrower, Wang-pyo, plus their pal Poong-chun, will go find some food. Finally, Jung-bum speaks up and tells Kap-jo to stay out of it. Kap-jo scoffs at the Captain.
The North Koreans are advancing toward Pohang.
The Captain writes a letter to his mother. The guys are being entertained by some show-offs.
Most of the guys go to sleep. A sentry comes into the room to get the Captain. North Korean troops are approaching the hospital area. The North Koreans slowly walk along the road to the hospital wondering where are the South Korean soldiers? Someone says maybe they are going to capture Pohang without firing a weapon. They walk beside a wall behind which are the student soldiers with their weapons. One of the students pushes himself upright and knocks off some of the loose blocks on the wall causing them to topple onto the roadway. The North Korean patrol sees the fellow who knocked the blocks over and start shooting. Now the students pop up and start firing in a frenzy. They wound everyone of the patrol, but some are still alive. So they start firing their rifles again at the downed soldiers which almost assures that none of the enemy will be able to get up off the ground. The order for cease-fire is shouted out. The student soldiers check to see if everyone is dead. Jung-bum comes upon a soldier who is shot, probably fatally. The soldier calls out for his mother. Jung-bum hesitates to shoot him, but finally does so.
The students go out on a walk around the area and find some weapons and ammunition. They take the supplies and start walking back to the hospital area. Kap-jo starts smoking a cigarette. The second-in-command tells him to put it out, but Kap-jo asks him if he wants to die? He grabs the guy to threaten him some more, but the Captain takes the cigarette out of Kap-jo's mouth, saying that smoke can be detected from up to 4 km away.
A North Korean soldier scout takes aim at the student soldiers and opens fire on them. Down goes those hit and then almost everyone hits the dirt. One of the youngest-looking guys gets shot, but stays upright. So he gets shot again. Bully Wang-pyo gets shot. His two buddies quickly crawl over to him, but Wang-pyo has been hit in the forehead and is dead. Kap-jo sees the scout now running away. He gives chase and the others follow him. The scout leads them right into an ambush. The North Koreans were hiding in the tall grass concealed until the last moment when they rise up and start shooting down the student soldiers. Someone shouts: "Get down!"
The students start taking heavy casualties. They should have retreated, but nobody seems to want to. They start inflicting some casualties on the North Korean side. Kap-jo distinguishes himself by getting behind the enemy and killing four or five of them. Jung-bum also performs very well.
Kap-jo follows after some of the soldiers and shoots them. He hesitates to shoot a little kid soldier. Jung-bum tells him not to shoot the kid and that's an order. Kap-jo, however, hates orders. He shoots the kid. Now the two South Koreans train their rifles on each other. Kap-Jo tells the Captain to shoot, but the Captain decides not to.
Back at base Kap-jo buries his friend Wang-pyo. Sitting by a tree, Poong-chun cries over the loss of his buddy. The casualties are 16 dead and 5 wounded. Kap-jo walks among the badly wounded who are screaming as loud as they can over the pain they suffer.
A student straggler is captured by the North Koreans. He is taken to be interrogated.
Right in the middle of the Battle of Nakdong, the student soldiers contact Captain Kang. He tells Jung-bum that the North Koreans they faced were only scouting parties. There is no telling when the main attack will begin. He tells Jung-bum to hold out for two hours and they can gets reinforcements to them.
Captain Kang reports to his superior officer that the North's 5th Division is charging towards Pohang. The superior officer has no one to send to the students and they can't afford to lose this battle right here and now.
After the interrogation of the South Korean student, Commander Park Mu-rang, under a white flag, takes the student back to the hospital area. He asks to speak to the student leader and Jung-bum comes forward. The Commander says his people will take this place two hours from now at 12:00 pm. But, if the students will raise a white flag and surrender, the Commander will let the student soldiers live. He adds that he's offering mercy to the students because he knows they were sent here as mere human shields and because the students will be leaders in the new unified Korea. Wisely, all Jung-bum will tell him is that they will see the Commander here at 12 o'clock. The Commander and his driver leave.
Captain Kang now asks his superior officer for just ten men. With ten men, the Captain says he can hold off the North Koreans at Pohang. They go over to see the American Commander. He says there's already a real shortage of American troops in the area. But he will give Kang some of the new super bazookas that will make it much easier to knock out the North Korean tanks. Kang is super happy about that.
Kap-jo abuses the "coward" and "traitor" who blabbed to the North Koreans. Jung-bum has to come out and stop him. He is really tired of this bully monkey on his back. He is going to take a stand against Kap-jo. Kap-jo throws the first punch. Jung-bum gets in a good punch, but that's about all. Kap-jo gets him down and really starts wailing on his face. Just then a shot is heard. This stops the fight. The shot came from a brother who gave in to his brother's request to put him out of his misery. He then takes his place in the sentry position.
Kap-jo tells the students to come with him and leave Pohang, but only his one bully friend will go with him.
An aide to the North Korean Commander wants to know what is keeping them from attacking Pohang? The white flag is not flying. He keeps on criticizing the Commander until the leader pulls out his pistol and points it at the insubordinate aide.
Captain Kang sets out for Pohang in a jeep with a few men and the bazookas.
The students put bayonets on their rifles. They attach grenades onto cans of gasoline.
Jung-bum writes the saying "Let's go!" onto a small South Korean flag and makes it into a headband to wear. He then gives his soldiers a pep talk having them repeatedly shout: "Student soldiers are soldiers!"
Kap-jo and Poong-chun come across North Koreans soldiers trying to get their truck out of the mud. The two pretend they are gun-ho for the North and help to free the truck. Meanwhile, they notice the truck is filled with lots of weapons and ammunition.
The student soldiers try to fire off a mortar round, but it doesn't work. They call for advice and are told to kick the mortar tube. They do so and the mortar takes off into the air but it lands onto the wall of the hospital area and explodes. They have to reset the mortar and then fire it again.
Meanwhile, the North Koreans stopped their advance wondering what was that explosion at the hospital? The Commander is out of his jeep wondering about it when a mortar round drops not that far from him. The round knocks down a lot of soldiers. And the Commander himself gets a piece of shrapnel stuck in his face. He pulls it out. Now he's really mad. "They return mercy with bombs!" And here comes another mortar shell.
Now the attack is ordered. The students prepare for the onslaught. The North Korean soldiers jump over the wall eager to get at the students. The students, however, set off a line of grenades which slows the roll of the enemy tide. Then the first line of defense fires on the North Koreans. It's hard not to hit an enemy since there are so many of them and they are so bunched together. When the first line has to reload, the Captain orders the second line of defense to fire on the North Koreans. They do so, then they have to reload. Now the first line fires again.
A machine gun now opens up on the students and that does a lot of damage. The student clown throws a grenade that lands just behind the machine gunner. The grenade explodes killing the gunner. A students pulls the pins on a group of grenades on gas cans and runs up and onto the turret with a machine gun. The fire from the explosion engulfs the entire armored vehicle, including the North Koreans who were trying to stop the suicidal student.
The student Captain yells for the first line of defense to fall back to the second line of defense. It looks bad for Jung-bum as there are just too many enemy soldiers. But just then Kap-jo and Poong-chun arrive with the North Korean truck. Kap-jo fires a machine gun into the North Korean soldiers while the truck heads up next to the building. When the machinegun runs out of ammo, Kap-jo grabs another machinegun and fires it into the swarming North Korean soldiers. The hero is then shot in the right thigh and goes down. Poong-chun jumps out of the truck to help Kap-jo get into the building.
The truck is stopped by the appearance of a North Korean tank with a blazing machine gunner on top. The tanks fires shells into the second line of defense wounding many student soldiers. Another suicidal student takes out motor shells to stop the tank. He is shot down and falls in front of the tank. The tank runs over the young fellow's body but also explodes the two mortar shells with him. This knocks off the treads of the tank and it is stranded for now.
Another tank arrives and does more damage to the student building. Kap-jo and Jung-bum team up to clear the halls of enemy soldiers. They do a terrific job and get all the way up to the roof of the building where there are still a lot of weapons and ammunition. Poong-chun is shot down trying to make it up to the roof.
A dying student soldier sets off the gasoline tanks on the ground floor of the building and that wipes out a lot of enemy soldiers.
Captain Kang reaches a part of the road that overlooks onto the hospital below. He takes out a super bazooka and takes out an enemy tank from his position. The North Korean Commander's aide says the South Korean's backup has arrived. The Commander now kills his bothersome aide. The Commander then goes into the building and starts killing the wounded student soldiers.
Here comes Captain Kang up behind the North Korean line. They start mowing down the surprised enemy.
The commander is shot in his left arm by the student he had once freed under the white flag. He turns around and shoots his sub-machine gun bullets into the fellow.
Jung-bum's machine gun gets jammed and he starts getting hit with bullets. And Kap-jo gets hit by bullets from enemy soldiers behind him. Nevertheless, they are able to finish off the few troops left on top of the building. Now the Commander arrives and shouts: "Hey, comrade!" Kap-jo turns around and is machine-gunned down by the Commander. He finishes Kap-jo off with a pistol shot to the head.
Now he's ready to kill Jung-bum. While he talks to Jung-bum, the young fellow puts another round in his rifle. The Commander fires his weapon and hits Jung-bum while Jung-bum fires his last bullet into the chest of the Commander. The Commander is going to shoot the young lad again but Captain Kang shoots him in the back with three bullets. The Commander expires. Jung-bum is still alive, but dies soon after Captain Kang lifts up his head. The Captain says to him: "I'm so sorry."
Flashback to scenes of the student soldiers before they were massacred.
"This story was based on the 71 student soldiers who fought in the battle at Pohang Girls Middle School on August 11th, 1950. The student soldiers kept the North Koreans back for 11 hours. They played a key role in the Korean and Allied forces counter attacks."
Good movie. I was wishing that there was a Korean War film that more fully told the story of a real crucial battle in the war. And now here it is. The North Koreans were threatening to push the South Koreans into the Korea Strait between the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. The heroism of men like those portrayed in the film prevented that from happening. The Allied and South Korean forces pushed the North Koreans almost back all the way to the Chinese border. (Of course, that brought the Chinese into the war and they pushed the Allies back to the 36th parallel not far north of Seoul.) Out of the initial 71 student soldiers, 48 died in the 11 hour long battle. The acting and the action scenes were both very good.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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