While some of us prefer tarnished war movies that slightly manipulate real-life events and evoke a sense of patriotism in us, there are others who are more inclined towards watching more realistic portrayal of battlefield. Whatever one’s preference may be, it cannot be denied that the war movie genre has given us some of the powerful films in the history of cinema. Sam Mendes’ recent war drama, ‘1917‘, which won several accolades at the Golden Globes and Oscars is the perfect example of this.
We’re all very well aware of all the renowned English war movies that have released over the years but little do we know that even the Korean cinema offers some groundbreaking films that work along similar lines. The Korean War is still remembered as the first global clash between democracy and communism but American pop culture hasn’t really dipped its toes in it yet. So here’s our list of all the Korean movies that’ll give you a glimpse of the Korean War.
10. Operation Chromite (2016)
During the Korean War (1950-53), the U.S marines made an amphibious landing at the port of Inchon and altered the entire course of the war. Labeled as “Operation Chromite,” this operation involved several troops and close to 261 naval vessels. The film is loosely based on the actual events surrounding the operation where a couple of South Koreans disguise themselves as North Korean troops with the intention of getting their hands on naval mine ship placements. Among the Korean cast of the film, Hollywood’s Liam Neeson plays the role of the United Nations (U.N.) Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur who carried out this bold landing.
9. The Long Way Home (2015)
War movies brim with intense emotions, realistic action and a lot of times, they also serve as a way of recuperating memories. But instead of focusing on the combat side of the war, ‘The Long Way Home’ portrays a story of companionship that comes with it. The film revolves around a middle-aged South Korean conscript named Jang Nam-bok, who is ordered to deliver a classified document that could potentially impact the fate of the war.
However, along the way, when he gets caught up in the middle of the intense battle, he loses the document and it somehow ends up in the hands of a teenage North Korean soldier named Yeong-gwang. In the events that follow, the two young men not only compete with one another for the document but also develop an unlikely bond.
8. In Love and War (2011)
A war can be quite a turbulent time for the ones who are involved in it, but at the same time, it also serves as the perfect setting for several timeless tales of love. Unlike most other movies on this list, ‘In Love and War’ is more of a lighthearted romance drama set in the heat of the Korean war. In the film, North Korean troops enter a South Korean village and out of fear, the villagers are forced to comply with them. Meanwhile, a forbidden love story begins to brew between a young girl of the village named Seol-Hee and the North Korean Lieutenant, Kim Jeong-woong.
7. My Way (2011)
Yang Kyoungjong was an 18-year-old Korean man who was conscripted into the Japanese army when Korea was under Japan’s rule and Japan needed more soldiers. A year post this, he was a part of the war against the Russian army at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol and was later caught as a prisoner of war. In the year 1942, when the Russian army became desperate for soldiers, Yang met the same fate again and got recruited to fight against Germany, this time at the battle of Kharkiv.
Yet again, he was captured and sent to France to defend the port of Cherbourg for the German army. His journey all across the globe did not end there. After this, he was imprisoned by the British forces and was later sent to a camp in the United States. When the war finally ended, Yang decided to become a citizen there and spent the rest of his life in Illinois. ‘My Way’ captures Yang’s incredible journey and shows you all the diverse set of warzones that he faced in a single lifetime.
6. Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005)
Also known as ‘Battle Ground 625’, ‘Welcome to Dongmakgol’ is based on a stage play of the same name written by filmmaker/playwright Jang Jin. Set in the year 1950, the film centers on a secluded village where no one is aware of the Korean War. When North and South Korean soldiers, along with a U.S Navy pilot, end up in this village, a strange yet hilarious dramatic tension ensues between the troops and the villagers. Although ‘Welcome to Dongmakgol’ isn’t a serious war movie at all, it is easily amongst the best and it also features soundtracks composed by Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi, who is very well known for his work in Studio Ghibli’s ‘Spirited Away‘.
5. Silmido (2003)
Set in the year 1968, the film recounts the Korean Republic Army’s plan to assassinate North Korean president Kim Il-Sung. To pull off this mission, 31 criminals and death row inmates are transported to a secluded island of Silmi and are brutally trained both mentally and physically. However, later, this mission is called off and the entire unit is terminated. The film shows how during the war, people were not treated as people but as machines and the atrocities that they are forced to go through are just heartbreaking. The fact that it is based on real-life events makes it even more impactful.
4. 71: Into the Fire (2010)
Released on the 60th Anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, ’71: Into the Fire’ is a big-budget war movie that brings to life the true story of 71 young South Korean soldiers, who took it upon themselves to battle hundreds of North Korean troops. Set in the earlier days of the war, the film involves some of the most renowned Hallyu actors such as Cha Seung Won, Kwon Sang Woo, Kim Seung Woo, and K-Pop singer T.O.P.
Although it did have some critical flaws and was also criticized for its Hollywood-style, the film is known to one of the best Korean war movies because of the way it perfectly portrays its war scenes and serves as a powerful reminder of all the sacrifices that were made by young men.
3. The Front Line (2011)
‘The Front Line’ reminisces the final days of the Korean War where although an armistice negotiation is announced, a fierce battle ensues on the Eastern front line of the Aerok Hills, as both the North and South Korean troops try to take control over this strategic point. War can be brutal, extremely destructive and as they say, it usually makes no sense at all. The film depicts how even after an uneasy ceasefire is finally ordered, the soldiers keep battling one another, having no clue why they’re even fighting.
2. Joint Security Area (2000)
Based on a novel titled DMZ by Park Sang-Yeon, ‘Joint Security Area’ is more of a geopolitical drama, which involves a “whodunnit” styled premise blended with some poignant ideological differences that split people during the war. It all begins with the mysterious death of two North Korean soldiers on the border North and South Korea. This further leads to an investigation conducted by a neutral body, Maj. Sophie E. Jean, a Swiss-Korean woman, who is not biased towards either of the two.
Unfortunately for her, this case proves to be a lot more complex when she receives two different accounts from the opposing parties. While the shooter claims that he did it only out of self-defense, one of the North Korean survivors affirms that it was deliberate. In the end, the truth is something that completely catches you off guard as a viewer and reminds you that “war is nothing but the supreme failure of bridging the differences between nations.”
1. Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (2004)
And finally, we have ‘Taegukgi’, which is considered to be the best Korean war movie by many. Also known as ‘The Brotherhood of War’ the film narrates the moving tale of two brothers who fight on the two opposing sides of the Korean War. Starting off from the warfare in Pyongyang, the film walks you through a variety of battles all the way up to the Eastern front line of the Aerok Hills.
Its sweeping battle scenes and realistic choreography create an inclusive atmosphere for a viewer. Adding more heft to this is its poignant themes that shed light on how several families were forced to be separated from their loved ones because of the war. The characters of the film may be fictitious, but its social significance evokes a sense of familiarity.
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