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Thursday, January 5, 2017
It has one of those annoying double titles separated by a colon, as though they couldn't make up their minds, and a cover that more than whispers "direct to DVD junk." But make no mistake--BATTLE FOR INCHEON: OPERATION CHROMITE (2016) is the real thing: a lavish, impressively-produced Korean War film that begins with a suspenseful espionage mission and ends with a full-scale invasion.
Based on true events, the story concerns a group of South Korean soldiers led by special forces captain Jang Hak-soo (Lee Jung-jae) who pose as a North Korean inspection unit in order to try and locate the placement of mines in Incheon Harbor before the invasion which is to be led by General Douglas MacArthur (Liam Neeson).
Their chief obstacle in this attempt is Commander Lim Gye-jin (Lee Beom-soo), a protege' of supreme leader Kim Il-sung who's in charge of fortifying the harbor against an impending attack. Not only is Lim Gye-jin tight-lipped about where those mines are, but he's also one of those arrogant, sadistic, and supremely suspicious little bastards who always sizes you up with a sideways leer and a hand poised over his holster.
Few situations are more suspenseful than an undercover mission in which the good guys have to maintain their false identities amidst constant scrutiny by a ruthless enemy. (It's an atmosphere of constant fear and paranoia in which even civilians have to keep their sh** wired tight at all times.) Naturally, Lim Gye-jin and his men eventually must resort to the most desperate measures imaginable to try and procure a map of those mines, leading to their discovery.
Their attempt to escape is the first blazing action setpiece of several during this film, each of which is masterfully shot and edited. Director John H. Lee has a smoothly competent visual style complimented by some expert rapid-fire editing that crackles like a live wire without ever becoming cluttered or confusing. In other words, this is red meat for action junkies.
A furious shootout in a hospital (during which an emotionally-conflicted young nurse must decide whether or not to abandon her current life and join the opposition) and other heated gun battles throughout the film are comparable to those in James Bond films or the works of John Woo. And giving the story added depth is its attention to the combatants as human beings with their own dreams of freedom and yearning to return home to their loved ones.
While all of this is going on, of course, there's Liam Neeson all made up as General Douglas MacArthur, complete with corncob pipe and shades, trying to add a new dimension to his career as an older character actor. Once we stop thinking of him as Liam Neeson, his MacArthur is sufficiently convincing. Actually, I never stopped thinking of him as Liam Neeson, but I enjoyed watching him play the character anyway.
Lee Jung-jae makes a sturdy, likable good guy as Jang Hak-soo--he's the opposite of the usual soulless action hero and we're always aware of the depth of his feelings throughout the mission. As Lim Gye-jin, Lee Beom-soo is a delight, albeit a perverse one since his character is such a smoothly evil little monster. The rest of the cast are uniformly on point, making us feel each tragic and heartrending detail of their emotional turmoil when the mission begins to go all to hell.
With all this going on, BATTLE FOR INCHEON: OPERATION CHROMITE would've been enough with just the undercover mission alone. But damned if it doesn't end with nothing less than the full-scale invasion of Incheon, with MacArthur leading a fleet of ships cutting through the churning waves and what's left of Jang Hak-soo and his men battling for their lives on the shore along with hundreds of other clashing warriors.
I don't know how jaded the average young movie watcher is these days, but I think the generous amounts of CGI used to give the sequence added scope and big-budget appeal are rather impeccably rendered and eye-pleasing. I mean, to me the battle scenes just look really well-done. Others may disagree.
The DVD from CJ Entertainment is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 sound which you can watch in either dubbed English or the original Korean with subtitles. Extras consist of a brief making-of featurette and trailers for this and other CJ Entertainment releases.
I had low hopes for BATTLE FOR INCHEON: OPERATION CHROMITE going in--from the looks of it, I was expecting something along the same cheapo lines as THE LAST DROP or something similarly horrible. I love it when my first bad impressions of a film are proven wrong, and I end up having a great time watching what turns out to be a surprisingly well-crafted and entertaining film.
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