Director John H. Lee’s Operation Chromite was a lean, explosive espionage thriller that explored the trevails of a strategy that endured its own ample share of politics. The result was a costly victory that otherwise helped turn the tide on North Korea whilst celebrating the memory of the heroic squad that led point for General MacArthur’s siege at Incheon.
Continuing the epic, cinematic war commemoration with a script by Lee Man-Hee and Jung Tae-Won, directing duo Kwak Kyung-Taek and Kim Tae-Hoon offer up Battle Of Jangsari, diving straight from a rocky boat and into roaring waters and the firey rollercoaster toils of war. The film’s discernible traits this time around exhibit the darker, more incommoding nature of such politics as the U.S. Navy mitigates with its own losses in the hundreds.
Left to its own devices is Myeong unit, an battalion of more than 700 young, strong-willed, albeit meagerly-trained student soldiers led by captain Lee Myung-jun (Kim Myung-Min). Their assault on the beach is an immediate hell-on-earth fight which ultimately finds respite victory for the unit, as dire matters accrue due to lack of food and working radio equipment to communicate to their status to headquarters.
Culminating the consequential nature of the mission is that its success or failure will ultimately fall on the captain – noted accordingly in the citations and pages of estudious war reporter Marguerite Higgins (Megan Fox) in her beleagured correspondence with the ever steadfast Colonel Stephen (George Eads).
Among the countless stories of soldiers who’ve fought in war throughout history, Battle Of Jangsari exudes catharic reprieve in its telling of accounts for a story that might have otherwise fallen into bureaucratic obscurity if authority went unchallenged. Director Kwak certainly lends his touch to the narrative centerpiece here which centers on select members of the unit, including Choi Sung-pil (Minho), Ki Ha-ryun (Kim Sung-cheol), Guk Man-deuk (Jang Ji-gun) and Moon Jong-nyeo (Lee Ho-jung).
Kim co-directs on this, his first feature, while some of the more definitive aspects of Battle Of Jangsari attribute to Kwak’s own experience and longtime craft, having previously helmed 2001 drama, Friend, and its 2013 sequel, as well as 2005 thriller, Typhoon. Boyhood friendships and camaraderie are placed front and center with the depeictions of Choi and Ki, unraveling youthful rivalry, flaring tempers and distrust, intially.
Understandably humanizing a few of the antagonists in Battle Of Jangsari sparingly invokes moments of sympathy and learning much with respect to how these young adults, mostly males, are conscripted into war. Ideology only goes so far for some of these soldiers, and it’s a small inclination in a key scene in which Choi reunites with a long lost family member, ensuing a blaring fatal twist.
The story is a far-less nail-biting affair than Operation Chromite with less of a face on the villains this time around. Fox’s inspired performance as the tenacious Higgins lends fine support opposite Eads’ Stephen, magnifying the real crux of the Jangsari conflict apart from the upshot of North Korean conquest.
With the Myeong unit as underdogs of this ill-gotten, bittersweet tale, Battle Of Jangsari serves up a worthwhile and teachable moment in history. Packed with compelling performances and explosive danger, pathos, and brutal and harrowing action, it is one of unwavering dedication and resilience with a fight on all fronts.