Friday, 17 August 2012

71 Into the Fire (2010)

Set during the Korean War, 71 Into the Fire is a film based on the true story of 71 student soldiers who were tasked to defend the Poyang Middle School from the hands of North Korean soldiers. Though new to war, the student soldiers are left to their own devises. They're lead by Oh JungBeom, a young soldier who doubts that he can lead a troop of soldiers.

The movie is beautifully shot in a hue of blue and yellow. This movie is so yellow, but in a good way. I am often left to pause the movie and admire the framing of a particular scene. How the director seemed to have captured the essence of the story not just through the eyes of the characters but the feel of the whole place. When there aren't explosions and gunshots, this movie is so quiet, and that makes it even more intriguing, heightening the suspense for each season.

To say that this movie has affected me is an understatement. Though this isn't the first Korean War-themed movie that I have watched, the fact that it's based on true accounts and with students are the main focus, it was enough to leave quite a lasting impression. This movie is just so heartfelt, and most importantly, it's not just about war. It's about the youth giving up their life for the country, finding camaraderie even in the people they deem to be their nemesis. It's about finding in yourself the strength to be a leader and being a hero in your own rights.

It's chilling how you see these group of students who are itching to fight, who are willing to fight. They arrive at the camp with so much courage but after their first encounter with the enemy, they couldn't sleep without dearly holding on their rifles. They are just kids, and they didn't fully grasp at first that many people die when fighting in a war. It's only when they experienced a shoot out that they comprehend the consequences of war. It's only when they start losing friends, losing fellow soldiers, that they realize that it's no laughing matter.

This scene breaks my heart and gives me so much hope, too. I don't know. I'm confused. ;__;

Oh Jung-Beom (Choi SeungHyun) doesn't have the confidence to lead a group of rowdy soldiers who won't take him seriously. So he ruled with seriousness, reprimanding those who won't listen, being firm with his decisions. KapJo (Kwon SangWoo) is one of the stubborn soldiers who think Oh Jung-Beom isn't a rightful leader. But he always puts KapJo in his rightful place. It's amazing how Oh Jung-Beom grows from someone who refuses to be a leader to someone who knows when to make the important decision and how to make others follow him. When the student soldiers start to take him seriously and when Oh Jung-Beom starts to become the source of strength for other soldiers, I almost shed a tear. It's such a huge leap from the tongue-tied soldier who fumbles with his rifle. I was so proud.

There's a good dispersion of suspense in a way that it's not just always fighting and gun wars. The characters are fleshed out as individuals and as soldiers. Oh Jung-Beom and KapJo have different ways of dealing with the enemy but you see where they're both coming from, you can empathize with both, even when you don't have to agree.

The fighting scenes are so well-made. The one filmed in a grassy field when they chase after North Korean snipers is enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. It's only the half-way through the film and we're getting all this suspense already! The final action sequence is quite powerful, too. Even minor characters are given the chance to have their own heroic moments. I think some are overdone but it's enough to crush my soul. When they see that the battle's about to be lost, they just give it all. Just give it all because it's all about to end anyway. Might as well give it your best shot. Little fools sacrificing their own lives for friends and for the country. How can you not love them?

It's quite hard to believe that it's Choi SeungHyun's (T.O.P.) first full-length film! He's still a newbie in the movie industry but he wasn't afraid to take on a lead role next to veterans such as Cha SeungWon and Kwon SangWoo. T.O.P. perfectly portrays the role of a timid boy who grows into confidence and courage. It's my first time to witness his acting so I'm really quite surprised.

Kwon SangWoo is quite amazing as KapJo. The scene where he buried his friend pretty much wrenched my heart out. I can't remember Kwon SangWoo being this good. Or maybe I haven't watched enough of his films and dramas to know that he's quite good in acting. And of course, Cha SeungWon is such an effective villain that even without saying a line, it's enough to dominate a whole scene. Or maybe there's just something in his aura that villain roles are so fitting for him.

When I get to watch a war flick this well-made, a part of me aches to watch more. Since I'm already suffering from such a sad movie, why don't I just watch more to make the pain unbearable? Right? I'm not sure how much is based on true accounts. But it's effective story-telling and definitely bought me. 71 Into the Fire isn't my favorite South Korean war flick, but it's going in my list of favorites.

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