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October 20, 2015

Northern Limit Line

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Yeonpyeong Haejeon
Kim Hak-soon - 2015
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

The tensions between North and South Korea are usually abstract for those of us in the U.S. Northern Limit Line might not substantially change that viewpoint, but it does give a sense of how serious things have gotten between the two countries. Based on a true incident, the film is the dramatic recounting of the attack of a South Korean patrol ship by the North Korean naval forces. The battle took place on June 29, 2002 while many people around the world were watching the World Soccer game between South Korea and Turkey. The title refers to the maritime border between the two Koreas in the Yellow Sea, with the event officially knows as the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong.

The film begins with the entry of Petty Officer Dong joining ship 357. Assigned as the ship's medical officer, Dong finds out that there is no sick bay, and the medical supplies consist of a few rolls of gauze, and treatment for cuts and bruises. Kim cuts to subplots about helmsman Han and the ship's commander, Yoon. Kim establishes how the three men evolve, in their relationship with each other, a look at their respective families, and finally, courage under fire. The narrative follows a familiar template of personalizing history, including scenes of camaraderie among the sailors, and a few moments of humor.

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The battle is presented graphically. Blood is shed, a leg is dismembered, a sailor's fingers are shot off. What caught me by surprise was seeing how close the main North Korean ship was to ship 357. In addition to the expected cannons and machine guns, North Korean forces included snipers to shoot at individuals. Dong is seen initial overwhelmed by the carnage that is more than he can take care of, taking initiative to tear off a bed sheet to in attempt to staunch bleeding of several of the sailors when possible, and taking a machine gun in hand when there is no one else available for battle.

With a local box office of almost Forty million dollars, Northern Limit Line is currently the most successful South Korean film for 2015. Amazingly, this is Kim's debut feature, made for a relatively modest Six million dollars, with a third of the budget reportedly crowd funded. Kim closes the film with documentary footage from the military funeral of the sailor, as well as photographs of the real life participants. Kim Hak-soon isn't John Ford, but the film is an honorable effort. The reviews I've read criticizing Northern Limit Line for "jingoism" strike me as being condescending. As for the influence of Saving Private Ryan, I have to wonder if some critics have not watched any South Korean films made in the past decade. This is primarily a South Korean film made for a South Korean audience, and the popular response should be considered. Northern Limit Line is hardly flawless, but is worth seeing for its glimpse of an otherwise overlooked piece of history.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 20, 2015 04:43 AM