During The Korean War, South Korea was so short on men that they resorted to accepting student volunteers to help the army in various capacities. Stretched thin, the South Korean army leave 71 of these students to guard their base while the soldiers go to battle on the front line, the only problem being that a North Korean commando brigade has aims to take the base for themselves. And so a small group of young, untrained volunteers must hold against a fully armed, fully manned unit until back-up can return.
The Korean War is a war that has gone strangely untouched by Hollywood, whom much prefer to set their sights on the heroism of WW2 or the unjust depravity of Vietnam. This is not all together a bad thing though, as it has left a pretty blank slate for the Koreans themselves to work on. Fortunately, the Korean perspective on this conflict is singular and provides a much more interesting take than could ever be expressed from the allied viewpoint, after all, it was their nation (and families) being torn apart. So it isn’t surprising that they have found plenty of mileage in this genre of late, from big budget (by their standards) populist outings such as Brotherhood, to more original variations of the genre such as the excellent Welcome To Dongmakgol. What remains constant though is the quality. The films always look and sound extraordinary; the filmmakers themselves never settling for anything less than Saving Private Ryan levels of visual greatness.
While it’s true that war films are not the favourite of this reviewer, and he generally enters them with a sense of trepidation, I find that I have never yet been let down by a Korean war film, and 71 – Into The Fire continues that trend.
The visuals ARE splendid, holding the sense of detail and grime that one expects from the very best war movies, and the battle sequences are visceral and no holds barred, but it is the premise that truly intrigues. We’re not being asked to root for a bunch of gung-ho soldiers, but a group of scared and untrained yet honour bound young men, and this being an Asian film, we are never promised a happy ending; a fact made all the more heart rending by the opening credit proclamation that the events of the film are based on a real battle that took place.
Finding pop culture comparisons to the themes of the film raise some interesting outcomes, for example, the ‘few VS the many’ story strand echoes that of 300, while its ‘young lads VS The Commies’ element isn’t a hundred miles away from Red Dawn, meaning, if one so wished to, could describe 71 – Into The Fire as 300 meets Red Dawn in The Korean War, except 71 is a much more serious, adult undertaking than both of those films.
The acting varies from great to overly broad, and some of the expressed sentiments of war are a bit obvious, but in all frankness, pointing out these small flaws feels like knit picking, as come the third act 71 – Into The Fire is a full blooded, rousing, and in other ways moving war movie that deserves to be seen by a lot more people than I suspect it will.
A- grade – for storytelling
A- grade – for visuals
B grade – for acting
B grade – for action
Overall grade – B+
71 – Into The Fire is released on region 2, 2 disc DVD and Blu-ray on March 14th courtesy of Cine Asia.
Extras include the Cine Asia world exclusive documentary Men Of Valour, personal reflections on The Korean War, audio commentary by Asian film experts Bey Logan and Mike Leeder, ‘making of’ documentary, interviews and much more.
Unfortunately a region 1 release has not been scheduled as of this writing.