October 19, 2012

The Front Line: Breaking All the Rules for a Pyrrhic Victory

Everything's fair in love and war. That's certainly an extremist point of view. It's also an idea which the war pic Jang Hun's The Front Line has made its underlying principal minus the love part. Within the context of war, no action is considered unacceptable -- not shooting a squadron of your own men, not using an injured, baby-faced soldier (Lee Da-wit) as bait to catch a sniper, not transporting messages from the enemies to their friends just for some chocolate or a bottle of wine, not letting an assassin (Kim Ok-bin) go because she's a woman. Whenever this status quo is challenged, a shouting match may ensue between the crafty officer (Go Soo) with the unappetizing tactic and the upstanding, undercover agent (Shin Ha-kyun) who everyone knows is undercover. No matter how heinous the suggestion put forth by the diabolical soldier, he is the one who is going to get the support of the troops. Morality, evidently, is antithetical to the battleground.

It doesn't end there either. When the fat captain (Jo Jin-woong) who's been giving lousy orders for the entire film finally goes too far endangering the men you can shoot him and take over. When the command from above is to defend at all costs, you can flee. When your best friend is revealed to be a complete traitor, you can forgive pretty quickly. You can even shout hurtful things to little girls with missing limbs without losing the respect of most of your fellow comrades. It's stress-related behavior, I guess.

I'm not sure why Korea chose to put this movie in contention for an Academy Award -- it didn't make the short list. The story isn't just anti-war, it's anti-person. And as war movies go, the battles recall video games in that you can see the objective (climb the hill) or go into a monochromatic environment (explore the tunnel) as the casualties roll by and the landmines explode like so many special effects graphics intended to enliven your faux world as the story/adventure pushes forward. The snag is that there isn't a character here who I'd want to play. I want my token back.

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