Seen in Jeonju

71: Into the Fire (2010)

18th June 2010

lposter041112-k6Now that finals have been scored and grades have been uploaded, I have the next two and a half month to study, write and watch movies. And that is exactly what I did today. I took the opportunity to watch 71: Into the Fire.  The trailers I had been seeing made me excited to finally be able to see the movie and I went into it expecting a lot.  Why wouldn’t I? I like films that make me feel something when I watch. Being directed by Lee Jae-han, the same man who directed the very emotional Eraser in My Head, I had good reason to believe that the move would not ignore the complex emotions that are necessary to make a successful war film. If a war film is simply fighting, shooting, shouting and posturing, it is ultimately boring. No matter how good the special effects are, I have to feel something to stay interested. That is why I liked Taegukgi so much when I actually hated war movies when I was growing up.  One of my younger brothers loved watching John Wayne World War II war movies–they all seemed the same to me…  I am happy to say, that I was also very impressed with 71: Into the Fire.

The story, based on actual events, takes place in the early days of the Korean War when North Korean troups swept through the nation.  Every able-bodied man was needed in the war effort and students were no exception. The northern army was almost at Busan and there was no time for proper military training. One such student is Oh Jang-beom, who finds himself assisting on the battlefield and who is clearly over his head. The pace, the confusion, the sounds and the horror of the battle are overwhelming. But despite it all, and despite the terror Oh is clearly feeling, he completes his futile mission and begins an even more terrifying journey to evacuate the area.  I am unsure how long this opening sequence lasted because I was completely caught up in the action, but when it was over, I found that I had tears rolling down my face. That caught me by surprise–I don’t usually cry during an action scene–but that was a testament to the power of the acting in this first part of the movie.

Oh Jang-beom is played by Choi Seung-hyeon, known to hs fan as T.O.P of the band Big Bang. T.O.P. has previously appeared in the successful tv drama Iris and the little seen movie Nineteen. He has clearly been working on his acting skills because he delivers a powerful performance throughout the film–and especially in the opening. He no lines in the entire opening yet everything his charater is feeling is delivered through his eyes and body language. TOP is in his early 20s yet his character, at times, seems almost half that age–and the terror and confusion he’s feeling is palatable. 

TOP is listed third in the credits, even though his character has most of the screen time. The first two names in the credits are Cha Seung-won and Kwon Sang-woo, two well-known and very popular actors.  Unfortunately, in this film, both of the overact throughout the movie.  Perhaps it is partly the fault of writing–the characters seemed like one-note stereotypes–the evil North Korean commander and the gangster, but as actors they should have tried to make them feel real.  I was a little disappointed in them–especially Kwon.  He really needed to tone the character down and realize that he was not the star of the film.

The first half of the movie I thought was better than the second, which is a lot of fighting without the same emotional impact.  Even though I complained about some of the acting, I loved the movie and recommend it without reservation.  I also look forward to seeing more of TOP in future films.  I think that young man has a bright future ahead of him.

Incidently, the poster shown above is my favorite and the most powerful of the half dozen choices available. First it features TOP who really needs to be recognized for his work on this film, but second because of the tagline in blue which reads in English “Mom, I might die today…” It really brings home the fact that these characters in the film are all just students. These days much of the military are university students between their freshman and sophomore years fulling their mandatory 2-year duty. It was impossible for me not to think about the recent sinking of the Cheonan while watching this movie and I think that made the story even more emotional for me. I get very attached to my students, and I hate to think of them potentially facing such extreme dangers.

3 Responses to “71: Into the Fire (2010)”

  1. Julienne Mendoza Says:

    Thank you for your review, I’m pretty much excited for the movie. I hope they release a DVD ASAP for me to watch it. The OST MV (Once Upon A Time) got me emotional with some clips of Jang Bum with his mother, so I’ll be expecting tear dropping moments here :)

  2. vic@bigbangupdates Says:

    i’m reposting your review on our blog. hope it’s ok :) we’ll take it out if not :) thanks for this!

  3. Seen in Jeonju » Blog Archive » DVD Releases: Oct.17-23 Says:

    [...] Into the Fire–I wound up reviewing this film a couple of times. Once on this blog back in June  and then for the October issue of Asiana Entertainment.  Even though I have seen [...]