Film Review: Operation Chromite (South Korea, 2016)

a

Another masterpiece war movie directed by Lee Jae Han and scriptwriter Lee Man Hee reliving the history of Korean war. Operation Chromite takes off where 8 South Korean soldiers formed by US army General Douglas MacArthur (Liam Neeson) operates under the special mission to infiltrate North Korean army and secure the Incheon landing for US troops. Captain Jang Hak Soo (Lee Jung Jae) leads the 7 men into their dangerous mission to gain insights on the North Korean naval mines. Will they be able to carry out the mission successfully?

“Mother
To complete my assignment,
I choose our country…”

The opening starts off with graphics showing the story behind Operation Chromite which I find very interesting rather than showing a normal video flashbacks. It was short and engaging, then it ends with the title of the movie. It continues with the mysterious opening scene without specifying a clear timeline or showing the face of the main character. It then bring the story to start when the captain and comrades kill the North Koreans in order to take their place as spies.

d

Operation Chromite really puts you on the edge. The movie is short and packed. For a while it gives you time to ease down and breathe but it will hit you again full on action and emotional moments. Like for example, it happens multiple times when Colonel Lim Gye Jin (Lee Beom Soo) suspects Park Nam Cheol (Park Sung Woong) as a spy but then he was able to escape these moments every time, until the last time where he finally got caught. It was something that happened unexpectedly as well since it was still the beginning of the movie. However the film does sets off starting from that point, every second passed mark as an intense moment as the audience would not know what will happen next.

A lot of critics mention how the movie tries to tackle both history and action at the same time which can be hard and resulted in it not excelling in both. But from my point of view the movie did a pretty good job balancing both, being able to educate the audience about Korean history while at the same time entertaining us with the jam packed action.

In terms of the emotional side, Operation Chromite shows a glimpse of some of the character’s life especially the soldiers that are part of Operation Chromite itself. It shows the relation between Jang Hak Soo and his mother, which can be seen from his reason in the beginning to join the mission and later on in the end before he died. The relation vise versa was shown when the mother was looking for her son after the war ended. Towards the end it shows a brief of romantic relation between Jang Hak Soo and the nurse, Han Jae Seon (Jin Se Yeon), that however did not last. Nam Ki Seong (Park Chul Min) relation with his family was also shown when he share a brief moment with his wife and youngest son before going for his final mission. Also Oh Dae Soo (young master) (Goo Yun) and Chon Dal Joong (Kil Kem Seong) brotherly relation was shown beautifully to put an ending to their mission and at the same time beginning of the operation final mission. These bits and pieces of their emotional attachment made the movie felt more humane and intact with the audience because we can simply relate to it.

operation-chromite

Han Jae Seon’s character progress pretty quickly, only been introduced during half of the storyline but manage to be quite a significant character. She plays a special role helping Operation Chromite successfully kidnapping Lieutenant Ryu Jang Choon (Kim Hui Sin) and later on joining the force. However it is quite debatable how her character can easily switch side from communist to anti in such a short amount of time, but then from the beginning her character does not have a strong ground on the communist party. But still it seems so unrealistic how the rest of the people she’s working is so invested in the communist ideology (shown how the rest mock and despise her when they knew about Jae Seon’s uncle who’s branded as traitor) when Jae Seon could easily switch side and even help the ‘traitors’ achieving their mission. Later on as well the feelings towards Jang Hak Soo developed considerably fast in a short amount of time, but luckily the director did not end the movie with typical happy ending where they both live and spend their old days together.

Lee Beom Soo and Lee Jung Jae deserves praise for their outstanding portrayal as North Korean soldiers. After watching Lee Beom Soo in other productions it seems apparent how good he is to carry his character in different movies. His accent, his gestures, his sadistic features, and the way his aura projects is really strong and real as how North Korean people are. He makes it believable and as how a villain score their goal is when the audience despise him, which he accomplish. However such stereotypical character was criticized as boring and conventional by critics, North Koreans as the cold blooded people while South Koreans as the more sympathetic ones. The movie was believed to be very safe and predictable, the plot have a pattern that the audience can see. It could have been more dynamic through a bit of a twist but maybe the director just want to focus on the original story and not straying away from it. This could be a positive or negative outcome, but the movie just did not meet the high expectation.

c

We all know that one of the reasons Operation Chromite was such a highly anticipated release was none other than Academy Award nominated Liam Neeson’s involvement. It’s quite a rare thing for a Hollywood actor participating in a Korean production, so it gained interest and expectations. Although General Douglas MacArthur role is very important in both history and movie, Liam Neeson presence itself is not. I feel he could do so much more with his character and show his potential, yet in this movie he just seems very flat and normal. It felt like any actor can take the role if General MacArthur and there are no special reason why Liam Neeson has to be the one.

I do not know much about how true the movie is with the history, but there are some loopholes that I found. What are the odds that Jang Hak Soo happens to be the famous ex-North Korean that run away to the South and then decided to come back to have a face to face with Colonel Lim Gye Jin? Also, who’s the Korean boy that General MacArthur met in the battlefield? How does it relates to his motives in attacking Incheon? Some of the scenes shown are just not strong enough and left the viewer hanging. In the end the movie did not hit the expectations I had, but it was not a fail as well, as it managed to keep a balance in both educating history and entertaining through their action scenes. As well as showing the humane side and keeping the audience engaged throughout the movie.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Operation Chromite is released in North American cinemas on August 12th. For theatre locations and times see CJ Entertainment website.

Photos courtesy of CJ Entertainment