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(Movie Review) 'Operation Chromite,' sloppy spy thriller

All News 09:05 July 25, 2016

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, July 25 (Yonhap) -- Every Korean knows U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur who led the famous Incheon landing operations that turned the tide of the 1950-53 Korean War in favor of the United Nations forces. But little is known about the South Korean soldiers who carried out a covert operation to prepare for the historic amphibious operation.

The Korean film "Operation Chromite" is a tribute to the unknown war heroes who sacrificed themselves to achieve peace in their motherland.

Seoul is captured by North Korea only three days after the North invaded the South on June 25, 1950. As the entire Korean Peninsula, except the Nakdong River zone, came under control of the enemy, MacArthur, the U.N. commander-in-chief, plans for the landing operations, dubbed "Operation Chromite," amid opposition from Washington officials. For this operation with limited chance of success, the way to Incheon must be cleared. So Capt. Jang Hak-su (Lee Jung-jae) of a South Korean Navy intelligence unit and his unit members are put to a covert operation code-named "X-Ray" at MacArthur's instruction.

Posing as North Korean soldiers dispatched directly from Pyongyang, Jang and his unit members sneak into the headquarters of the enemy forces led by Lim Gye-jin (Lee Bum-soo) and gather information necessary to guide the historic Sept. 15 operation to success. But they soon face trouble as Lim, the North Korean commander in charge of defending Incheon, begins doubting their identity.

As it focuses on the intelligence operation, "Operation Chromite" is more of an action spy thriller rather than a blockbuster war movie.

The film is surely enjoyable but should have been better for the presence of the Hollywood star Neeson among its main cast and its large production cost of about 16 billion won (US$14 million). It's not that the story is sensationalized. The trouble, rather is that it doesn't maximize the drama, lacking in the suspense of thriller films.

When Jang and his unit members sneak into Lim's office and try to steal a classified map where the burial places of landmines are marked, we don't capture the heartbeat of the people who risked their lives to save their nation. The battle scenes are spectacular but lifeless and hard to engage with.

Another problem with the film is that its characters are strictly two-dimensional. They are what you might call prototypes. In the film, North Korean soldiers are described as ruthless and cold-hearted people and South Koreans as invincible, warm-hearted heroes. Neither its director John H. Lee whose Korean name is Lee Jae-han nor actors ever make humans out of them. MacArthur is praised as a hero fully armed with humanity and the military spirit all the way through the film.

This lack is felt especially in Jin Se-yun, who plays the role of Han Chae-seon, a nurse of a public hospital in Incheon. According to the PR material from the film's distributor CJ Entertainment, the communist goes to pieces after finding out that her uncle who raised her is a South Korean spy, but chooses to help Jang after her uncle is brutally killed by the North Korean soldiers. But we don't see her experiencing any "chaos" before making an ideological conversion.

The movie also features Korean films' trademark tear-jerking sequences. The South Korean soldiers have moments to visit their beloved ones and cry out, mourning the death of their colleagues while in war. The sequence where MacArthur explains to officials from Washington that why he sticks so much to winning the war through flashbacks is a little bit absurd. He says that's because he was deeply moved by a South Korean child-soldier whom he encountered during the war and was willing to fight again if he is given a gun and bullets even though all his unit members were annihilated. The filmmaker obviously went too far with his desire to fan Korean moviegoers' patriotic sentiment. The result might be low box-office turnouts.

"Operation Chromite" is set to open in local theaters on Wednesday.


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