When you think "war movie", what's the first war that comes to mind? WWII or Vietnam, more than likely. The Korean War (1950-53) probably wouldn't top many lists; in fact, most folks might have trouble naming more than one film without help, myself included. Yet the aptly-named "Forgotten War" provides a dramatic backdrop for South Korea's The Front Line (Go-ji-jeon, 2011), submitted but not nominated for 2012's "Best Foreign Film" Oscar. Our story takes place during a 1953 ceasefire near the end of the war; both sides have their eyes set on a strategic point along the Korean Peninsula that might serve as a border between North and South, so it's no surprise that the ceasefire is broken. Unfortunately, one of the notable casualties is the commander of South Korea's Alligator Company... and to make matters worse, the bullet that killed him was fired from a South Korean gun.
First Lieutenant Kang Eun-Pyo (Shin Ha-kyun) is ordered to investigate this possible murder. Along with the new commander of Alligator Company, Kang finds plenty of surprising things upon his arrival at the front lines, including the presence of an old friend (Go Soo) he thought was killed years ago. Yet The Front Line is anything but a murder mystery or ghost story; for the most part, it's all about the continued interaction between North and South. There's a prominent anti-war sentiment present during the film, and for good reason: the nation continues to struggle with unification, so The Front Line examines where many of today's problems first became evident to the rest of the world.
Even so, The Front Line has trouble staying afloat during notable portions of its 133-minute running time, and these aren't just pacing or story problems. Many of the characters are strictly one-dimensional and never get a chance to develop, while the film's all-too-familiar color palette and visual style once again apes Saving Private Ryan and the like. I've never been a huge fan of war films in general, mainly because the characters tend to be superficial. Though there are exceptions---and, to be fair, the film's premise is intriguing---The Front Line falls into this trap on several occasions.
WellGo's Blu-Ray Combo Pack helps to enhance the film's bleak atmosphere with a rock-solid technical presentation...but unfortunately, the bonus features aren't anything to write home about.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of The Front Line is crisp and well-defined from start to finish. The film's earthy, muted color palette holds up nicely, a natural layer of film grain is maintained and black levels are deep and rich. No obvious digital imperfections could be spotted along the way, making this a top-tier visual presentation that fans should really enjoy. Bottom line: even if the movie doesn't win you over, The Front Line looks just about perfect.
NOTE: This review's screen caps were taken from promotional sources and do not represent Blu-Ray's native resolution.
Equally impressive is the audio presentation, if not slightly more so. Presented in your choice of DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio or Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes (both in the original Korean), we get a fantastic balance of bombast and subtle atmospheric touches. Obviously the battle scenes will steal the show here, from thunderous amounts of LFE to the directional whiz of flying bullets, but the film's quieter moments are extremely crisp and effective as well. Aside from a few dodgy moments of obvious ADR, there's very little to complain about here: from the full-bodied score to quiet, crackling moments of suspense, The Front Line features an extremely polished and professional audio treatment.
Packaging, Presentation & Menu Design
Seen above, the menu designs straddle the line between "slick sci-fi" and "corny B-movie", but at least they're easy to navigate. The 133-minute film has been divided into 19 chapters and these single-layer discs appear to be locked for Region A/1 players only. This two-disc release is housed in a dual-hubbed Eco-Line Vortex case, along with a handsome matte-finish slipcover and two inserts.
Not much here, and most of it's surface-level stuff. These include a brief Production Featurette
(480p, 4 minutes), two Theatrical Trailers
(480p/1080p, 2 minutes apiece) and a throwaway Highlight Reel
(480p, 22 minutes), which is meant to showcase the film's technical merits...but in standard def? Like the main feature, optional English subtitles are included for translation purposes only.
The Front Line is a slightly above average war film, albeit one with a nagging sense of "too little, too late" that permeates throughout. The film's paint-by-numbers visual style doesn't help matters, but at least the conflict it explores is less-traveled territory. As for the Blu-Ray itself, WellGo serves up a fantastic technical presentation with an unfortunate lack of useful bonus features. Worth a look for fans of the genre, but low replay value won't make it a disc you'll revisit very often. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two in his spare time. Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD-DVDs and writing stuff in third person.