VideoVista covers rental and retail titles in all genres and movie or TV categories, with filmmaker interviews, auteur profiles, top 10 lists,
plus regular prize draws.
INDEX OF ALL REVIEWS
SEARCH THIS SITE
TOP 10 LISTS
INTERVIEWS & PROFILES
RETRO REVIEWS SECTION
ABOUT OUR CONTRIBUTORS
SUBSCRIBE TO NEWSLETTER
SUPPORT THIS SITE -
SHOP USING THESE LINKS
visit other Pigasus Press sites...
The ZONE - genre nonfiction
Soundchecks - music reviews
Rotary Action - helicopter movies
cast: Cha Seung-won, Kwone Sang-woo, Kim Seung-woo, Choi Seung Hyun, and Christina Cha
director: John H. Lee
116 minutes (15) 2010
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Showbox / Cine Asia DVD Region 2
review by Jim Steel
71: Into The Fire
All war films are by their very nature dishonest (and all adult viewers are well aware of this) but there are several different varieties of lies.
71: Into The Fire (aka: Pohwasogeuro) purports to be based on a true story - which it is - and it starts off in full war-is-hell
bloodbath vérité mode before flipping and turning into an action movie shoot-'em-up that brings back fond memories of pre-Hollywood John Woo. You
can even spot the exact moment it flips. But we'll come to that in due course.
When communist North Korea stormed across the 38th parallel in 1950, they came very close to pushing the South Korean forces back into the sea.
All that was left of South Korea was a small pocket around Busan in the south-east that was desperately trying to hold on long enough for the
Americans to come to the rescue. This eventually happened, of course, and the war seesawed for a few years after that, but all that took place
after the events in this film. At the start it looked very grim indeed and the South Korean government was throwing every kitchen sink they could
find into the front line. Students were armed and marched out to be little more than cannon fodder.
And that's where we discover Oh Jang-beon (Choi Seung Hyun). He's ferrying ammunition to troops who are being overwhelmed in a violent urban
street-fight. When one of the professional soldiers is attacked, Oh jams his gun and is unable to prevent the man from being bayoneted. They
retreat, and Oh accompanies the dying soldier a hospital in a converted school. By now he's so withdrawn that he's almost catatonic (this may
have been a tactical decision on the part of director John H. Lee since Choi is, first and foremost, a pop star). A pretty nurse (Christina Cha)
takes a shine to him but gets no reaction from him before she is evacuated. This, obviously, is as near as Lee can get to injecting a romantic
Eventually all the troops are moved to where the main attack is expected and the 71 students who are left at the school are all there is to defend
it in case of attack. Oh and two others are the only ones who have had combat experience, so the departing commander places Oh in command. Well,
you would, wouldn't you? Oh, to his credit, does try to point out that he's hardly leadership material but the commander can obviously see something
in him that's oblivious to the rest of us. I may also have said 'students' earlier, but a couple of them are young thugs who were dropped off by
the police since they might be more useful on the front line than in jail. Indiscipline? Conflict? You betcha! The usual stereotypes also crop up
amongst the others: geeky radio operator, fat clown, underage innocent, etc. The shooting can't start soon enough.
Meanwhile, the North Korean force that we witnessed in the opening battle is driving towards the school in an attempt to outflank the main South
Korean army. Their commander, Park (an effective Cha Seung-won), dresses in a white uniform and is chauffeured around in a sidecar. He is clearly
a hardened and forceful man despite that, and his frequent arguments with the political officer prove that he is no mere party hack. His poor tactics,
however, tend to show that the political officer was correct, which may not have been the filmmakers' intended effect. Oh, by contrast, rises to
the occasion and moulds his motley crew into a force that is capable of withstanding a full-frontal assault from a professional army that outnumbers
The main battle at Nakdong River is portrayed as the turning point of the war, and the battle at Pohang School is shown as vital to the success at
Nakdong River. Since the South wasn't overwhelmed, you can safely assume that the students held out long enough to make a difference but it would
be unfair to reveal whether or not you are watching a Rorke's Drift or an Alamo. As hinted earlier, though, the film does move into
high-carnage action film mode. The change-over comes when Oh Jang-beon gives the students a stirring prep speech - complete with stirring music -
on the morning of the main assault. One suspects that, from then on, any attempt at veracity has been shelved. But it is damned exciting and that
is what counts.
At least no-one has the effrontery to claim that they are fighting for freedom. Chinese Premier Zhou, when asked whether or not the French Revolution
was a good thing, famously replied that it was too early to tell. Syngman Rhee's agrarian South Korea was a brutal dictatorship that had a lower
standard of living than the industrial north up until the 1970s, folks, but in the long term the good guys appear to have won. They've also developed
a major film industry and while 71: Into The Fire may not be the best that it has produced, it is certainly a good, solid piece of entertainment.