Battlefield film begins at war’s end

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Battlefield film begins at war’s end


Director Jang Hun is back with his third film, an epic about the Korean War called “The Front Line” that has already earned rave reviews. [JoongAng Ilbo]

With his low-budget directorial debut, “Rough Cut” (2008), filmmaker Jang Hun engraved his name in the minds of moviegoers and critics alike. His second project, “Secret Reunion” (2010), which deals with the friendship between a North Korean spy and a South Korean counterspy, drew 5.5 million and proved he was immune to the sophomore slump.

Now, the 36-year-old filmmaker has returned with the blockbuster war movie “The Front Line.” The film, which was released on Wednesday at theaters nationwide, was daunting for Jang in many ways, not least because he was concerned about the potential for distorting the history of the war. His second challenge was raising the 10.1 billion won ($9.5 million) budget, which was nearly double the cost of his first film.

The result of his efforts, however, is a film that has been praised by critics and industry insiders who are comparing it to classic antiwar films from the West. Film critic Shim Young-seop compared it to the 1979 hit “Apocalypse Now” and Busan International Film Festival programmer Jeon Chan-il said Jang’s film was reminiscent of “The Thin Red Line” (1998).

“The Front Line” is set at the height of the war in 1951, two years before the signing of the armistice. With a ceasefire negotiation in progress, South and North Korea confront each other along the eastern front line in a battle to secure strategically valuable positions before the negotiations are complete.

The film starts with the sudden death of a South Korean company commander. At first, it appears that the commander was killed by enemy fire, but it is later discovered that the bullet came from within his own company. Meanwhile, there are signs that one of the South Korean soldiers is communicating with the North. As suspicions grow, the South Korean military dispatch Lieutenant Kang Eun-pyo (Shin Ha-kyun) to investigate the situation and discover the truth.

What Kang discovers there, however, raises even more questions about the commander’s death. Members of the Alligator Squadron, the company at the center of the case, exhibit strange behavior, which is masked by their drug addition and mental distress.

In the course of the investigation, Kang reunites with his long-lost friend, Kim Su-hyuk (Go Soo), which only complicates matters because Kim is the leader of the squad.

The JoongAng Ilbo recently interviewed Jang about his work on the film and his career.


Go Soo plays the head of a squadron at the center of a murder investigation in this scene from “The Front Line.” Provided by Showbox

Q. What films inspired you when you began working on “The Front Line”?

A. When I read the screenplay by Park Sang-yeon (the original author of a story that was later made into the 2000 hit “Joint Security Area”), the first film that came to mind was “Platoon” (1986). The story also reminded me of “Band of Brothers” (2001). In terms of the visual imagery, I thought of “Paths of Glory” (1957). In general, I wanted to express the soldiers’ feelings of helplessness during the war.

You are not part of the war generation. Was that a challenge?

Yes, and it made me more cautious. But I realized during the production of “Secret Reunion” that there should be a wider variety of stories about North and South Korea if we want to figure out a better future for the two Koreas. And I don’t think there should be a limit on the subject matter, whether it is something about North Korean defectors or the Korean War.

The Korean War is not an easy topic, though. How did you approach it?

Most of the story is fictional. I worry, however, about how teenagers and viewers in their 20s will receive it and wonder whether they will view the fictional episodes as true stories.

In addition, people have certain expectations for war films. They expect flamboyant battle scenes, but I tried not to use gratuitous violence.

Some critics say the film has less commercial appeal than your previous film, “Secret Reunion.” How would you respond to that?

Park, the screenwriter, told me that the most important element in the film is the battlefield. The human story is secondary, which may make the film less commercial. But while we were researching the Korean War, Ryu Sung-hee, the art director, showed us a picture of one battlefield that haunted us. There were no trees and the ground was caved in as if disfigured. That was the beginning of this movie.

What was it like to work with heartthrobs So Ji-sub, Kang Dong-won and Go Soo?

One disadvantage that attractive actors share is they are often judged by their looks, even though they may have valuable skills.

One thing these three actors have in common, however, is that they are always focused on their acting.

By Ki Sun-min []

한글 관련 기사 [이데일리SPN]
`고지전`, 전쟁 참화가 빚어낸 비극의 주인공들

전쟁의 참상을 다룬 영화는 많다. 하지만 그 속의 사람에 집중한 영화는 드물다. 더불어 그 두 가지 모두를 짜임새 있게 엮어내기란 결코 쉬운 일이 못된다. 잘못하면 산만한 플롯으로 핵심을 놓칠 수 있기 때문이다.

20일 개봉하는 영화 `고지전`(감독 장훈)은 드라마에 집중하면서도 거대한 스케일과 탄탄한 이야기 구조 모두를 잃지 않은, 힘있는 작품으로 기억될 것 같다.

영화는 1953년 한국전쟁 막바지, 지루한 휴전 협상을 이어가던 시기를 배경으로 하고 있다. 휴전협상의 시작과 함께 모든 전쟁이 고지전으로 돌입한 한국 전쟁 마지막 2년 사이에 벌어진 치열한 전투를 그린 이 작품은 방첩대 장교 강은표(신하균 분)의 시선으로 이야기를 풀어낸다.

전쟁터에서 죽은 줄 알았던 옛 동료 김수혁(고수 분)을 만난 강은표는 놀라움을 금치 못한다. 2년 전 겁 많고 유약했던 이등병 김수혁이 초고속 진급으로 부대를 이끌고 있었던 것. 그곳에서 강은표는 하루에도 몇 번씩 쟁탈전이 벌어지는 애록고지의 실체를 겪으며 전쟁의 잔인한 실상과 마주한다.

영화는 가볍지 않은 주제를 강하고 울림 있는 드라마로 이끌어간다. 피비린내나는 전장의 현실 속에서 스스로 변할 수밖에 없었던 수혁, 일본강점기부터 독립운동을 해 온 북한 출신 국군 양효삼(고창석 분), 소년병 출신으로 부대를 이끄는 신일영(이제훈 분) 등 영화 속 모든 캐릭터가 각자의 사연을 지닌 채 어우러진다.

특히 배우의 발견은 새롭다. 과거의 전쟁 상처를 마음에 묻은 채 하루하루를 부딪치듯 살아내는 소년병 역을 카리스마 있게 소화해 낸 이제훈은 `고지전`이 길어올린 가장 큰 수확 중 하나다.

기존의 이미지를 지우고 선과 악을 오가는 복합적인 표정 연기에 방점을 둔 고수의 모습도 의미심장한 도전으로 읽힌다. 류승수 고창석 등 무게감 있는 배우들의 연기도 적재적소에서 빛을 발한다.

직접 참호를 파고 와이어 캠을 이용하는 등 제작진과 배우들이 함께 뛰면서 만든 장면도 기존 전쟁영화에서 맛볼 수 없었던 신선함을 안긴다.

유일한 여성 캐릭터로 나온 차태경 역의 김옥빈이 기대했던 무게감을 발휘하지 못한 점은 아쉽다. 감동 코드를 의식한 듯 후반에 병사들이 함께 눈물을 흘리는 장면 역시 상투적이다.

그럼에도 `고지전`은 지금껏 한국 전쟁을 다룬 영화 중 몇 손가락 안에 꼽을만한 수작이라는 데에는 대체적으로 이견이 없을 듯 하다.

감독은 전쟁의 참화 속에서 자신의 위치와 태도를 선택할 수 없는 보통 사람들의 상황을 그리고자 했다고 전했다. `전쟁`이라는 배경을 지우면 `고지전` 속 인물들의 모습은 치열한 경쟁사회를 살아가는 현실 사회 속 우리와 꼭 닮았다.
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