Operation Chromite. (15.)
Directed by John H. Lee.
Starring Jung-jae Lee, Beom-su Lee, Liam Neeson, Sean Dulake, Justin Rupple. In English and subtitled Korean. Released on Boxing Day. 108 mins
To Western audiences (or the audiences that go to arthouse cinemas and read reviews) Korea is the Land of Twisted Cinema: sadistic, violent and downright weird thrillers and horrors. To Asian audiences, and a growing number of people here, Korea is the land of K-pop and Korean dramas, multi part slabs of industrial strength melodrama featuring pretty boys and girls crying and smiling in the rain, where every crucial moment happens in slow motion, accompanied by piano music. They are followed as earnestly as we binge watch that latest HBO boxset.
In Operation Chromite, fabricated from a true story, the aesthetics of Korean drama are applied to recreating the 1950 Incheon landing, the turning point of the Korean War, and the undercover mission that preceded it and paved the way for its success. It's a two prong assault. In English, Liam Neeson's General MacArthur presides over a fleet of CGI war ships, the only man who believes his 5,000 to 1 against plan can succeed. In subtitles a group of ten Korean undercover agents try to infiltrate the commie military and find out the map of their mines in the harbour, take over a strategic lighthouse, mow down a few hundred enemy soldiers and try to sneak a poignant look at their old mums who are working in the market.
The Incheon landings already has an entry in the cinema Hall of Shame. In 1980, the Moonies (whatever happened to them?) invested $45 million in making Inchon, with Olivier as MacArthur, one of the biggest flops in film history. That films seems to have disappeared from view but was desribed as a madly jingoistic folly, and Chromite follows it all the way over the top. I understand that the Korean War is technically on-going, the two sides held by over a half century ceasefire, but even so you don't expect a film about events 66 years ago to be so feverishly, bug eyed patriotic. All the Korean fighters are motivated by a fierce love of freedom and country, each is a match for about twenty enemy soldiers and all the communists soldiers are 100 % evil, parroting their creed, “Ideology is thicker than blood.” The chief baddy Gye-jin Lim (Beom-su Lee) is a sneering, grinning, chubby chopped sadist – hmm, wonder who he's based on. Meanwhile MacArthur can't get enough of his Korean allies, continually eulogizing over how brave they are and how committed they are to him.
The tone of the film is probably down to the production company trying to suck up to the now wholly discredited President Park. Film companies that made films that displeased her soone found themselves getting audited by the tax man, while internationally acclaimed actor Kang-ho Song (The Host, Thirst, the weird in The Good, The Bad and The Weird) was effectively blacklisted for making a biopic about the early days of a previous president. The soon to be impeached President has been exposed as being a Chancey Gardener figure in the thrall and under the instruction of a Rasputin-like figure who claimed to be channeling the spirit of her late mother, who spent much of her time watching Korean dramas.