Well gents, here is another South Korean action entry, that, while not quite reaching the heights set by Oldboy and I Saw the Devil, is a solid film by its own merit. This film is a highly fictionalized account of U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s plan to take back Incheon from the North via a top-secret South Korean team, codenamed “Trudy Jackson”, only with South Koreans taking the glory home in full. The only time I’ve heard of director John H. Lee was long ago, when he was rumored to direct a remake of John Woo’s 1989 masterpiece The Killer. While that project ultimately and mercifully did not happen, after seeing this film, I now understand why his name got brought up.
This is a rip-snorting war action-adventure, chock full of larger-than-life heroics and high-octane, big-scale action sequences that are buttressed by relentless suspense. It riffs off Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie before ascending/descending (take your pick) into a restrained combination of Where Eagles Dare and Missing in Action. Make of that what you will, but it is damned entertaining to see plans go awry, heroes improvising their actions, lots of bullets piercing flesh and lots of explosive mayhem in the climactic battle sequence.
This Lee guy clearly loves action movies, but his love for his country shines more. Lee proudly takes pride in glorifying its South Korean heroes with flag-waving heroics and tactical military action ala Michael Bay/most Cannon Films productions, while relishing in glee in portraying the North Koreans as sadistic, inhumane bastards (the antagonist played by Lee Beom-Soo can be positively compared with Soon-Tek Oh’s merciless villain in Chuck Norris’ Missing in Action 2: The Beginning). Lee does not overstay his welcome in the action department, though, making sure to deliver the nicely wrapped action with tight, cohesive editing.
While the actors do a competent job, the American sequences with Liam Neeson as Gen. MacArthur is ironically where the film falters. I have no problem with Neeson’s stunt casting but the screenplay for the English bits are so stilted, I realized the film didn’t have enough of a budget to hire a Hollywood screenwriter to doctor these parts. We’ve had three Korean filmmakers that made the leap into English-language foray, yes, but they had a mostly-Hollywood crew behind them that ensured every bit had that polished sheen, instead of a mostly Korean one like this. If they can afford crap-tons of cash to produce turds such as Dragon Wars (2007), they sure as hell can hire a Hollywood script doctor. As a result, Neeson’s performance as Gen. MacArthur comes off as awkward and slightly cartoonish, especially his delivery of certain lines during the film’s climactic battle sequence.
Nevertheless, this is still a small flaw compared to the majority of the film, which is quite riveting from start to finish. It does not mar South Korean’s current golden run in adult-oriented fare, and remains a much needed diversion to Hollywood’s chickening out to an over-saturated market of computer generated spandex-costumed mutants and man-child fantasies. Yes, it is unabashedly jingoistic too, and what’s wrong with a little ‘rah-rah’ spirit?