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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Northern Limit Line"


I have a lot of respect for soldiers. This isn't because of any ridiculous nonsense like how they're stoic invincible highly trained heroes protecting our freedoms from the barbarian hordes. No, I respect the troops because they have lousy jobs. It's either do nothing, or do something really quickly. Plus, the punishment for pretty much everything is infinite push-ups. "Northern Limit Line" is, first and foremost, a story about these down-to-earth soldiers.

Unfortunately it is secondmost a fairly blatant tale of propaganda. I read up on the actual "Northern Limit Line" after watching the movie, and discovered a rather more legally ambiguous situation than what the film implied. I rather doubt that the North Korean people actually involved in these events were devious malicious disingenuous villains who scheme about the best way to destroy South Korea's freedom and democracy while brandishing Kim Il-sung flag pins.

It's a pity that "Northern Limit Line" chose to take this route with regard to the North Koreans, because if we ignore the climax, this is a fairly straightforward story about a bunch of young men, some career soldiers, some temporary recruits, who slowly bond with each other over food, work, and the World Cup. The year is 2002, you understand, and the backdrop of South Korea finally making it on the world stage of soccer is a fairly poignant one.

The metaphor isn't just a national one. The characters are all, in one way or another, just starting out in life. And the seriousness of military discipline, the big naval ships, and the minor clashes with the North Korean navy, all serve to signify that these young men have grown up. They have arrived at life, and that doesn't mean they have to throw away their personalities or act constantly super-serious. Sometimes patriotism is just being willing to apply body paint- in addition to following orders, of course.

This is such a good metaphor that I was really just all the more disappointed by the North Korean depiction. Are we seriously to believe that the people who died on the North Korean side didn't have families and didn't deserve to be mourned? I'm not expecting pro North Korean apologism here- it's just that the greatest success of "Northern Limit Line" is its ability to put a human face on people who are generally seen as pawns in a larger conflict. For the movie to literally only go halfway on that depiction is just rather strange.

In all fairness, the North Korean scenes are a very small part of the overall film- but they were still enough to leave a fairly sour aftertaste in the final action sequence. "Northern Limit Line" is based on a novel, so some fudging of reality is to be expected, but when the credits start out with a dedication to the real people who died well...anyway, the sheer length of the credits also indicates a massive crowdfunding effort, and I suspect the many donors to "Northern Limit Line" got what they wanted- a fitting eulogy to young men taken before their time. I'm just disappointed the movie didn't do much more than that.

Review by William Schwartz

"Northern Limit Line" is directed by Kim Hak-soon and features Kim Moo-yul, Jin Goo and Lee Hyun-woo.

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