Go-ji-jeon (The Front Line) (2011)
Director: Hun Jang.
Starring: Ha-kyun Shin (Kang Eun-pyo), Soo Go (Kim Soo-hyeok), Seung-su Ryu (Oh Gi-yeong), Chang-Seok Ko (Yang Hyo-sam), Je-hoon Lee (Shin Il-Young), Jin-woong Jo (In-gi Jeong), Seung-yong Ryoo (Hyeon Jeong-yoon), Ok-bin Kim (Cha Tae-kyeong).
ownership of a hill in Korea switches back and forth between the Chinese-N. Koreans to the S. Koreans
Spoiler warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
In South Korea Ttere is a demonstration in the street where the protestors call out: "We want reunification!" At the same time the peace negotiations between the Chinese/N. Koreans and the S. Koreans/Allied forces have continued droning on and on for a half year now. A South Korean officer named Kang Eun-pyo goes into the negotiating room and hands another officer the list of POWs that they will be sending back to the Chinese/N.Koreans. The American negotiator says that the demarcation line between the two forces has to be above K Hill which the Allies recently captured. His counterpart on the other side of the negotiating table says that their side more recently took over K Hill. The American negotiator now gets the news from his staff that the enemy has taken K Hill again.
Kang Eun-pyo is being transferred to the investigation unit. He is not happy about this at all. That unit has the job of finding collaborators among the South Korean population. Kang says a lot of those people were forced by the North Koreans to feed them. In fact, before purging collaborators who helped the North Koreans: "They need to purge the pro-Japanese pawns first."
Kang has to appear before his superior officer who asks him why couldn't he just keep his mouth shut? They will not send Kang to jail, but he will be going to the eastern front. The superior officer throws a letter from a North Korean soldier that was sent to a South Korean woman through the S. Korean Military Postal System. Intelligence believes there's a spy in the unit on the eastern front in Alligator Company. He says the company's captain was killed recently not by the enemy, but by a S. Korean officer. They are sending out a new captain to Alligator Company and Kang will go with the captain.
Kang also learns that his old friend from his college days Kim Soo-hyeok reported missing in action is alive and is an officer in Alligator Company. Kang is shocked by the news.
Flashback. There is a battle on as Kang runs hunched over in the trenches of Alligator Company. He finds Soo-hyeok who is shaking with fear sitting in the mud of the trench bottom. Kang grabs Soo-hyeok by his uniform and pulls him down the trench with him away from the thick of the fighting, but it's too late. The enemy capture Kang and Soo-hyeok and put them with some other recently captured South Korean soldiers. The North Korean commander tells the South Korean prisoners that this war will end in one week from now. When North Korea is victorious they will need these POWs to help rebuild the nation. He suddenly says: "You can go. See you again when we're reunified."
Kang can hardly believe his ears. Only Soo-hyeok is not let go. He is taken away by the North Koreans.
Back to the present. It is snowing. A brand new soldier, Private Nam Sung-sik, is riding in a jeep headed for the front lines. He is going with the new captain for Alligator Company and Kang. He is only 17 years old. When they arrive at Alligator Company the new captain is shocked at how undisciplined are the soldiers. Some of the men are even wearing Chinese coats and pants. When the captain sees this hr tells the men to take off those enemy pieces of clothing.
Master Sgt. Yang Hyo-sam comes over to meet the new captain. There are two children at the camp and they rush over to the sergeant who is very happy to see them. But the new captain is not happy about this and asks if this is a kindergarten here? The sergeant says they are war orphans and the men have been looking after them. Kang offers a chocolate bar to the little girl only to discover that she has only a stump where her hand once was.
Kang goes into the shower tent. He finds a naked man taking a helmet shower. Kang asks for his name and rank, but the man just ignores him. Instead he gives himself an injection of morphine. The taciturn fellow puts on his army shirt and Kang grabs him by this shirt. The man just knocks Kang's hand off his uniform. Now Kang reads the man's name of his uniform, Shin, Il-young. He also discovers that the man is a captain. Kang asks him if he is the acting commander? The captain only says: "Respect your superior."
Shin explains the upcoming attack on Aerok Hill. He says they recently took back the hill on their 6th attack. The new captain says they are going to use their anti-aircraft guns to bombard the enemy. The men don't like that idea because they are worried that the guns could be captured and used against the United State Air Force. Another man comes into the tent and says that the captain's idea is no good, The captain asks who is he? His name is First Lt. Kim Soo-hyeok. Kang is surprised to see his old friend.
Outside the tent the two friends talk together. Kang is amazed that Kim made it all the way from private to first lieutenant in just two years. With death all around him, it's not hard to move up quickly. Now Kim asks Kang what is an intelligence officer doing here? Kang says they have intelligence that there is a spy in Alligator Company. Kim says that's bull-shit and Kang says he knows it.
The company now toasts the new captain. Kim gets up to say that first they must say a toast to their fallen comrades. Now the men call on the new private, Nam, to sing for them. This is delayed when a crazy soldier comes into the tent talking about the company's present status of retreating. The master sergeant tells him to stop talking about Pohang, which took place in the past. Kang turns to Kim for an explanation and Kim tells him: "He thinks we're in Pohang." The crazy man is still looking for his platoon from Pohang.
When things return to normal, the men have Nam sing for them. Nam sings a sad song about home sweet home. This starts making some of the men cry and others becoming very quiet.
In the morning the captain wakes up the men saying that Aerok Hill was taken again by the enemy. They are going to take back the hill. Kim says they won't last a day now that the enemy has their anti-aircraft guns.
The men start marching toward Aerok Hill. The men are upset and especially scared of an enemy sniper they have named "Two Seconds (because in two seconds you drop and then you hear the gun fire).
The men sneak up near an enemy outpost. Kim decides to put on a North Korean uniform and head down there to talk to the enemy. At first the conversation goes well, but then the officer notices the strange boots that Kim is wearing. They all point their weapons at Kim and force him down to his knees. Kim's comrades whistle to him and he hits the ground as the men kill or wound almost all the enemy soldiers. When the radio man sends out a call for help, one of the soldiers of Alligator Company shoots him down.
The air force bomb the area ahead of a large group of South Korean soldiers, including Alligator company. All of a sudden, as the South Koreans advance forward they are hit my heavy mortar fire. The men rush for the trenches. There's a machine gun nest that is really killing a lot of South Korean troops. Kim rushes forward with a hand grenade to get close to the nest. He tosses his grenade in and the grenade wipes out the machine gun nest. Now the men rush forward in an uphill charge. They are still taking heavy casualties.
Now there are a lot of dead or wounded bodies all over the scene of the charge. But the men persist in their uphill climb. When they get over their biggest obstacle, the communist forces start running away quickly. The South Koreans take the hill. Nam shoots and kills a North Korean soldier who looks younger than him.
Kim tells Kang that the North Korean commander who said the war will be over in a week was here on the battlefield. He saw him.
Some of the men, including Kim, are having themselves a little feast. Kang goes up into the cave to check on them. Kim sees him and tells him to come over and sit down with them and have a drink. Kang is thinking that he has found his spies. He asks one of the men where he got the letter from a North Korean. The master sergeant jumps up and points his rifle at Kang, while Kang points his pistol at the master sergeant. Kim gets up slowly. He tells Kang that there is nothing here for him to be upset about. He then tells Yang to put his rifle down. Yang says: "If he talks, we're dead." Kang says this is something because they have been communicating with the North Koreans.
Kim now explains what's been going on. The hill has switched owners many times, maybe as many as 30 times. They had a bunch of extra stuff that they didn't want to carry back down the hill. So they dug a hole and put a box inside the hole. They then filled the box with socks, clothes and Yankee chocolate, cigarettes, boots, etc. They figured they'd be forced off the hill, so they would get the stuff when they returned to take the hill back. When they did take the hill back again they found their hidden wooden box filled with human excrement. Disgusting! Inside the box was a note: "Thanks for the chocolate, cigarettes and socks." The South Koreans were so mad that they buried a letter cursing the North Koreans. The next time thet retook the hill there was a new box buried with a big bottle of rice wine. At first the guys refuse to drink the wine for fear it is poisoned But one of the men goes ahead and downs a big gulp of wine. Nothing happens to him, so everyone takes turns having a drink.
Kim says that the big bottle was a bribe, because inside an envelope the North Koreans had several letters home to family in South Korea. The North Koreans wanted their southern brothers to mail the letters home for them. And now each side regularly leaves something special for the other side. Now he asks Kang: "What else did you expect?" Did Kang really think they were leaking crucial information to the North Koreans and thereby putting their own lives in danger? Kang turns around and leaves the cave.
Kang asks Kim if he had anything to do with the death of the former captain? Kim says the captain shot himself while running from battle. He reported the captain as Killed in Action out of courtesy. They found his body in the creek north of the hill. Kim says that Kang is not going to find anything so he should go home before he gets killed.
Kang goes up to the creek north of the hill to see if he can find anything relating to the death of the captain. What he finds is a pretty girl who is crossing the stream to get to her home in the area. He tells her to go home because it's not safe for her out here. He also gives her a Yankee chocolate bar. Kang watches her as she walks away.
Kang and Kim's unit is involved in several more fights for the hill. Third Platoon lost 8 men and 23 wounded need to be evacuated.
The guys dig up another box from the North Koreans. In one of the letters from a guy named Cha Tae-kyung there is a picture of his pretty sister. Kim looks at the photo of the sister and says that she's cute. He asks Kang: "What do you think of my future wife?" He says he has her address and he can visit her after the end of the war. They get Nam to sing another song for them.
The officers talk about this "Two Seconds" sniper who has killed about 30 of their men. Kim says he will take out the sniper. He asks for ten men to go with him.
The unit is getting discouraged looking for the sniper. They stop on top of a hill for a rest. Nam urinates while watching a nearby rabbit. As a prank, a soldier pulls down Nam's pants. As Nam starts getting his pants back up, he is hit in the leg by a shot. Nam calls out for help but Kim tells the men not to try and get him because it's a trap to kill others. Another shot hits Nam in the back. Kim looks through a high powered rifle telescope and when the third shot hits Nam, Kim says he has the sniper. He calls in an artillery barrage to the area.
Kang stretches his hand out and tells Nam to grab it. As he attempts to do so, a fourth shot hits Nam and kills him. The artillery barrage arrives, but they find no trace of the sniper following the barrage. Kang stays with Nam's body. He looks around and sees the sniper. He starts to follow her track of blood. When he kneels down he feels a rifle barrel pressed up against his helmet. He wheels around and fights with the sniper. Kang subdues the sniper and now puts the barrel up against the back of the sniper's head. The sniper slowly turns his head and Kang sees it's the young woman he saw while checking the creek north of the hill.
She asks if the man she killed was the boy who sang for the men? Yes. Someone calls out for Lt. Kang. The woman scurries away from Kang, who does not chose to kill her, even though this very capable woman has now killed 31 South Korean soldiers.
The woman sniper limps into the cave. The North Korean commander observes: "An artillery barrage for a single sniper?"
The superior officer reports to the staff that the 2nd Corps of the Chinese army is setting up a new point to the northwest of Aerok Hill. Kang is still upset about the death of Nam and the discovery of the identity of the sniper. After the briefing Kang tells Kim that he is responsible for the death of Nam. Kim says the war killed Nam. Kang totally rejects that assertion. They are interrupted by the little girl with a stump instead of a hand. She wants confirmation from the officers that her hand will come back as she grows up. Kim laughs and tells her: "Are you a lizard? Arms don't grow. You'll be armless until you die, freak!" Kang hits his friend twice and questions whether Kim is any longer human. Kim replies: "No, I'm not human anymore. I died long ago. Three years of hell! What do you expect?"
Again the conversation is ended by a rifle shot. The crazy soldier holds a man hostage with the barrel of his rifle pointed at the back of the kneeling man's head. The crazed man keeps asking where is his platoon? One of the soldiers gets angry and tells the crazy man that when they fled Pohang, 2nd platoon got wiped out. The crazy fellow now asks Captain Shin then why is he still alive if 2nd platoon was wiped out? The captain pulls the rifle barrel away from the hostage and puts it up against his chest. Now he asks why is it that the crazed man is the only one from 2nd platoon to survive? He now turns and starts to walk away. The crazed man now shoots Captain Shin in the back.
Kang tells Kim that the captain doesn't feel any pain, because he's hooked on morphine. And now Kang asks what happened in Pohang?
Flashback. The unit was being surrounded by the North Koreans on the beach. Many of the men had been able to get back on a landing craft to escape from the encirclement. But more and more fleeing soldiers kept trying to get onto the boat. The men in the boat point their rifles at the others who want to get aboard and say that they can't take any more men with them on the landing craft. The ramp comes up and closes. A soldier on the boat shoots a soldier trying to get on. Now the men on shore start shooting the men in the landing craft. One after another the men in the landing craft are shot down. Shin sees Kim get wounded and he decides to stop this nonsense. He rushes up to the machine gun on the boat and opens fire on the men on the beach. He mows down the men still struggling to get on the boat. Later he tries to kill himself for what he did.
Kim gets up and asks everyone who is blaming this man for what happened? This man saved all their lives. He points a rifle at the men threatening to kill anyone who says differently. So some of the men start agreeing with Kim. One man says that 2nd platoon was wiped out in combat.
Back to the present. The crazed man is taken away by the military police. The orphan children go with him.
A North Korean officer explains to his men that this will be the last battle over Aerok Hill. The Chinese army will be leading the attack this time.
Shin is back to regular service. He tells the company commander that if they take their men off Aerok Hill, they won't be able to defend themselves from the Chinese. Shin says it's suicide. The company commander pulls out his pistol and puts it up to Shin's head. He says that disobedience during battle brings immediate death to the disobeying man. Shin shuts up. The commander now says: "Standby to attack along Hagang ridge."
The men get ready to receive the Chinese attack. It starts to rain at night while the men await the attack. A Chinese bugle announces the attack. The South Koreans cannot see the Chinese. But they do see them when several lightning strikes land nearby. There is a large mass of Chinese soldiers coming at them. A flare lights the battle field and a furious battle begins.
Kang and Kim tells the company commander that there are just too many Chinese for them to try and kill all of them. Kim says they have to pull out now. "Aerok is completely surrounded." The commander says they have to wait. Meanwhile, the Chinese have reached the trenches of the South Koreans. Headquarters calls and tells the commander that they have to stand tight and fight until the end. Kim demands that they retreat now! Another man agrees and the commander grabs him, throws him on the table and threatens to shoot him in the head. Kang tells the commander not to do it. As the commander relaxes a bit, Kim sticks his pistol up near the commander's head and shoots him. Kim says their commander is dead and he is in charge now. And he says: "We're pulling out!"
Kang now holds up his pistol to Kim's head. Kim tells him that if he shoots him, Kang will be in command. He asks: "Can you get our boys out of here?" Kang lowers his pistol. Kim shouts to get all the survivors to Ridge 315.
It's a struggle to retreat because the Chinese are so close to them. Yang is shot and killed. It looks like the end for Kim and Kang. But just then Captain Shin and his men show up to save the day. Kim tells Shin to save his men.
Kim and Kang and a few others get away from the Chinese. Kang asks Kim if he killed the former company commander? As the two men argue with each other, one of their men is hit by the sniper. Kim is wounded. He's really mad now and he goes after the sniper. Kang follows behind him. Kim has to take shelter behind a tree. He jumps out from the tree and fires a round at the sniper but misses. Kim is hit again by a sniper bullet. Kim fires again and thinks he has hit the sniper, but then he sees that the sniper is the sister of the North Korean soldier. This was to be his bride. As he hesitates to shoot, he is shot again. When Kang comes over, he sees Kim hit in the back with a bullet. Kim now lays down against the tree. He tells Kang that they all are already dead, including Two Seconds. "We've killed too many. We should be in hell. But hell can't be worse than here. Killing each other . . . I die today, and . . . My mom. . . . I can't remember her face." Kim gets hit again and now dies. Kang screams out at the death of Kang.
Two Seconds now eats her candy bar as she marches back to the cave.
Kang carries Kim's dead body on his back headed for their lines.
Two Seconds, the commander and another soldier open the box left by the South Koreans. Two Seconds starts to read the South Korean letters. The letter says Hey, Cha Tae-kyung. This is Two Seconds' brother and she stops reading the letter. A little later she finishes reading the letter. The letter is signed by Kim Soo-hyeok. A messenger rushes in to tell the commander that the war is over. The truce has been signed. The men from both sides are thrilled that the war is over. At this time of celebration Kang manages to reach camp with Kim's dead body still on his back.
Many of the soldiers cry over the loss of Kim, including Shin.
The peace treaty is signed. Alligator Company soldiers wash themselves and their clothes in the creek. They see the North Korean commander and Two Seconds. Kang comes up and gives the photo of her that Kim had with him when he died. She looks at the other side of the photo to discover it covered in blood.
The peace treaty is read to the officers. The only drawback is that the truce doesn't take effect until 12 hours from now. This means Alligator Company and other South Korean outfits will be fighting for Aerok Hill again. The top officer says: "We'll launch a full attack on all fronts. Twelve hours from now, it will be our land." Captain Shin is told to take the north ridge of Aerok Hill.
The North Koreans also don't like that they will have to go back to fighting. The commander starts laughing. A scared soldier asks him why and he replies: "Did you expect to survive this war?"
Captain Shin tells Kang that no matter what happens he is going to try to save his men. He gives a rousing speech that at least gives some of the men an incentive to fight hard in the battle to come.
The men wait for the fighting to start. They hear the North Korean soldiers singing. Suddenly, the fog lifts and here comes the United States Air Force. They bomb Aerok Hill held by the North Koreans. Most of the men are back in their caves. When the air strike is over the South Koreans start charging up the hill while the North Koreans rush downhill to man their defense positions. The South Koreans reach the top of the hill.
The air forces drops more bombs onto the battlefield and are killing soldiers from both sides. Captain Shin calls to tell them to stop bombing because they are already behind the enemy lines. Kang survives the bombing, but he is hit by a bullet from Two Seconds. She is very nervous and she jams her rifle. She rushes down, grabs a bayonet and charges Kang. Now it's a hand to hand fight. Kang now has control of the bayonet and he slowly pushes it forward against the resistance of Two Seconds. The knife goes into her very slowly and she dies.
Captain Shin is finally killed by the North Korean commander. The commander returns to his tunnel. Kang comes into the cave. They share some cigarettes and wine. Kang asks the commander why are they fighting? The commander says he knew the answer, but now he has forgotten it. Both men hear over the radio to stop all fighting. And both men start laughing about it. They have a good laugh until the commander dies. Kang leaves the cave and starts walking downhill. There are bodies all over the battle field.
Good film. This film like the film Pork Chop Hill set in the Vietnam War is very anti-war. The men are still fighting after years of peace negotiations near the North and South Korean borders. On both sides the soldiers wonder what the hell the negotiators are doing while many thousands of men are still dying? They also wonder why they themselves are still fighting on, while the two sides try to reach an agreement. Morale is rather low and many are reluctant about having to fight again and again over the same hill. And other soldiers just seem to have gone a little crazy. This is the case of the South Korean Captain Kim who is a hell of a fighting man, but a bit crazy in the head. Officer Kang finds his old friend Kim on the battlefield, but increasingly sees things that are very disturbing to him about Kim. The men become increasingly at odds with each other. Kang feels that Kim has become some kind of crazed killer who likes battle. Their different takes on the war (and the fact that Kim has post-traumatic stress disorder) keep the two men struggling through almost the entire film. It's good versus evil on the battlefield.
This all comes to a head in the climactic showdown near to the last day of the Korean War. Does good triumph over evil? Well, the answer to that question is more of a gray answer rather than a clear black and white answer. Was it worth the fighting? Many of the surving fighting men are confused about the answer to that question.
The acting is good all around and my wife and I both enjoyed the film.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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