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The Front Line is a useful historical representation of the end of the Korean War that has both value and limitations, seeing as it is from the Korean perspective that therefore depicts the war as having been civil and focused on the attempt of unifying Korea. The director aimed to create a film that focuses on the bond between both sides as a way of illustrating the attempt of unifying Korea. Through doing this, director Jang Hoon fails to depict the war without bias in perspective, shown through minimising the international involvement and loyalty to the South. Symbolism and contrast are matched with the downplayed war visuals to depict war as a mess that’s purpose is questionable. Because it focuses on the bond between the both sides, some symbols for this bond are done so in a way that presents the war in a historically inaccurate way, also being criticized for the way what it “offers up as telling ironies are mostly rusty tropes”. The film depicts to society the impacts of war on people’s humanity, being sacrificed for hills that acted as mere bargaining chips. When watched, only the end of the war is seen without context behind why the war broke out, with limited depiction of foreign involvement in the War.
The South Korean film was produced in 2011 by director Jang Hoon, depicting the final six months of the Korean War which lasted from June 25th, 1950 until July 27th, 1953. It is considered a historical drama and takes place during a real event and period in history, the Korean civil war, which was the first physical war in the Cold War. Historic locations such as Panmunjom, where the armistice between the two sides was signed in 1953, are used to depict real events that took place such as conversations between both sides over the armistice. Surrounding elements such as the orphans of war, PTSD and constant change of control over the hills represent real historical parts of the war, the film being able to “expose of how impersonal military operations literally makes mountains out of molehills.” The movie loosely depicts the involvement of China, the US and the UN in the war, instead focusing on depicting the war as a civil war that wasn’t a part of the spread of communism the Western perspective depicts it to be. Whilst set in a historical period, this movie shows more about modern perspectives on the war that is now seen from three differing perspectives, The Front Line therefore portraying the modern Korean view on the war.
The value of the director’s choices made portraying the war are that he was able to portray the end of the Korean War for younger generations in focusing on the bond between North and South. The majority of prior Korean War films released focused on how the war began such as 2004 drama-action Taegukgi, but Jang hoon decided to release a film about the end of the war to “allow them to question the historic war and the current North-South relationship.” He aimed to allow younger generations to form their own opinions on the relationship, therefore depicts the bond between sides to be blaming hardships of war instead of either side. Both are portrayed to be struggling from the brutality of war, sharing the same view on how meaningless the fight for Aerok hill is, as they lose their understanding on why they are fighting such a war. In representing the past in such a way, Jang Hoon depicts the war in a way that inspires “disgusts with war and leaders who blithely send men into lethal combat”, done through characters like the soulless commander brought in to lead the company who blindly follows orders from higher ups. This places blame upon the leaders of the Korean War and illustrated all citizens and soldiers as victims to their orders. The director successfully allows younger generations to form their own opinions on the two countries current relationship through placing the blame for the war onto the leaders involved.
Jang Hoon faces limitations in delivering context on the involvement and role of international countries in the war as well as failing to direct without bias in favour of South Korea. Jang Hoon portrays America as an aviation force that “drop bombs indiscriminately on the battlefield”, painting the American’s as disconnected from the South and making the relationship between America and the South appear worse than between both sides of Korea. America is barely depicted in The Front Line, with only one US representative seen in the entire film, despite the bias to the Southern army. The movie includes a character that was an old war-veteran who fought in the war against Japan, a reference to the nation who colonized Korea for thirty-five years, that was from the North but had deflected. This character held a deep hatred towards the North, introducing himself as “Not red at all”, the use of such a character who was from the North but fighting for the South illustrating how the movie is made with a bias in favour of the South, despite claims of illustrating the bond between both sides. The director faces limitations as he failed to depict aspects of the film such as the importance of foreign armies fighting the Korean War and depicts the sides with a bias in favour of the South Koreans.
There is value in the visual techniques and filming methods used in The Front Line to represent the horrors of war. The opposing politics are depicted in the scenery, as the “South Korean encampment are bluish grey, and those of the North are brownish orange.” Red is a known symbol for communism, blue it’s opposite, such contrasted imagery representing the forms of political ruling of each side. The director wanted the battle scenes to “downplay the visual fireworks of war in favor of expressing it as messy, senseless pandemonium” keeping the glorification of war to a minimal, portraying it as a grim mess. Jung Hoon makes it so that the very “futility of sacrifice is symbolized by the hill” that all the battles take place on, so that the senseless reasoning behind the war is portrayed in his film. The filming styles also work to reveal the horrors of the past, first filmed by a hand-held camera with quick cuts, then by a steady, smooth camera that made it feel “as if we ourselves were getting used to what’s happening around the characters”. This revealed how soldiers became desensitized to the ruthless nature of the war, quickly suffering from the sacrifice required. The techniques and methods used by Jang Hoon hold value in the way they work together to portray the nature of the Korean war.
The techniques and methods used hold limitations in the way they depict the relationship between sides as well as in its use of cliché war tropes. During the film, a box in a tunnel in Aerok hill is used to exchange small gifts between some North and South Korean soldiers, symbolising the friendly relationship between both sides. This representation of the relationship holds historical inaccuracy, considering they were at war and are shown killing each other off in other scenes, the film following the same “war-is-hell” concept as seen in movies such as Saving Private Ryan. The concept of the box therefore is added for entertainment purposes rather than to accurately depict the war. The movie also subjected itself to criticism over using character clichés such as the old war veteran and the young, scared soldier new to war. These tropes make it difficult to understand what type of soldiers were involved in the war, nor do they allow for historical detail to be added to them, seeing as they “Are the standard stock characters we’ve met in countless war films”. The techniques and methods used by the director hold limitations as a source of history in the way it ignores parts of the war to create a more interesting story.
The Front Line depicts the inhumane nature of people brought out because of war through accurately illustrating the role of the hills on the 38th parallel during the Korean War. The Korean war, as wars tend to do, left soldiers suffering from PTSD, as well as feelings of undying guilt, portrayed through the shell-shocked soldier that had force-forgotten his troop being wiped out, this depicted in the Pohang flashback. The scene shows character Shin Il-Young having to shoot numerous South Korean soldiers for the rest to escape, an inhumane action leaving him addicted to Morphine as he is unable to deal with the pain caused. Scenes such as this one and the scene of Suhyeok’s death show society the inhumane nature of war, along with how broken forced actions leave soldiers, seeing as Suhyeok says he believes he “died a long time ago” although only at the brink of death in that scened. The company watched constantly fight for Aerok hill, which although not an actual hill, portrays the fighting that would take place for ownership over hills. It portrays the futile nature of the war that took place during three years, majority of battles taking place over hills that’s sole use was gaining leverage over the opposing side. This film is successful in depicting how scarring it was for those involved in the war as they were fighting a useless cause.
The depiction of the Korean War in The Front Line fails to illustrate most of the war to society along with the foreign involvement. As it focuses on the last six months, it is understandable that it doesn’t show the war prior to the end, but in doing so society isn’t shown the cause of the war, let alone that Korea was divided due to the Soviet Union and America wanting to maintain power in Korea after WWII, therefore creating the 38th parallel. This shapes society’s view on limited information on the war, personal perspective therefore limited seeing as the movies focus is on a specific element. The countries that aided each side are only briefly shown throughout the film, despite China having been involved in the war before it began, and America officially joining two days after the first attack on the 25th July 1950. Whilst this was done due to the western view that the Korean was “A proxy war for the Cold War”, in minimising the involvement of countries and organisations such as the UN, it presents the war solely from the Korean perspective, despite two other perspectives existing. Limitations held in the representation of the Korean War in this film are its sole focus on the end of the war and Korean perspective.
To conclude, whilst The Frontline is a South Korean film that has value and limitations in its representation of the Korean War, it accurately illustrates the modern Korean perspective to viewers on the ending of the war, focusing on the bond between North and South Korea. The role of the director in representing the past successfully allowed younger generations to see the end of the war whilst the bond between both sides in Korea is highlighted. The use of symbolism and contrast throughout the film in visuals and filming techniques depict the war as the sacrificial mess it was. Society is able to understand the effect war had on those involved, along with gaining an understanding on the use of hills on the 38th parallel during the war, therefore the film acts as a useful source on history.
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