11:00 - 29th June 2013, by NEO Staff

71 - Into the Fire

Set in 1950, 71 - Into the Fire is a hard-hitting, and extremely well told, war movie that should appease fans of the genre to no end. Opening with a bang, the film utilises plenty of Saving Private Ryan-style shaky-cam carnage to drop the viewer straight into the thick of the Korean War. Bayoneted bodies and bullet ballets are the name of the game here - although the trigger-happy action soon slows down to introduce us to the movie's main protagonists...

The main plot goes like this: undermanned, the South Korean army takes on a group of college students to fight and defend their land. This is when 71 - Into the Fire really gets going, as we begin to meet and learn about the various young personalities who find themselves grouped together in a struggle that they barely comprehend. As fractions emerge and in-fighting becomes the norm, they must - nevertheless - learn to battle as a unit when a climactic showdown with North Korean enemies looms. Turn up these speakers too - because this is one cinematic showdown that will positively enthral!

Although clearly indebted to the realism of the aforementioned Saving Private Ryan, and such other Hollywood outings as Platoon, the confusingly titled 71 - Into the Fire does manage to carve out an identity of its own. Part of this is down to the excellent acting of its young cast (some of whom are making their debut) but the film also excels thanks to a building sense of suspense and the niggling feeling that this was something of a personal project for director John H. Lee.

Certainly, the tale of a country split in two, caused by the fallout from World War II, has no fairy tale conclusion (the North Koreans, as we know now, would end up in dire poverty and living under a terrifying dictatorship - whilst the South still lives in fear of reprisals) and, consequently, the movie has a melancholy that is hard to miss. Blame for the conflict is, wisely, never telegraphed in one direction and one is sure to come away from 71 - Into the Fire with an overriding sense of pity and frustration. Typically, no one wins in armed conflicts and this is never truer than here.

However, for those who do not want to linger too much on the intricacies of what took place 60 years ago - the good news is that Cine Asia has picked up a pulse-pounding action film. Indeed, 71 - Into the Fire also works perfectly well as a high stylised combat story, with enough explosions and intensity to keep even the most jaded veteran of war cinema hooked to the screen.

It all adds up to a rollicking, if decidedly emotional, trip back in time and a reminder of how many young lives were sacrificed in order to keep South Korea free from an especially crackpot variation on Chairman Mao's communist revolution. And whilst 71 - Into the Fire all too often wears its heart on its sleeve, it would be rather redundant to criticise it for such a small infraction.

Time well served - 71 - Into the Fire is proof positive that war is better this side of the TV screen.
SCORE: 4/5
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