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KajoPicks: 10 movies inspired by the Korean war to watch

The Korean war began on June 25, 1950 when about 75,000 North Korean soldiers headed south to begin their invasion on South Korea.

The invasion was the first military action of the Cold War.

North Korea had its support from China and the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the United Nations, principally the United States, was supporting South Korea.

Overall, the Korean War was among the most destructive conflicts of the modern era. It was estimated about three million people died and that there were massacres by both sides.

The North Koreans were accused of torturing and starving their prisoners of war (POW). North Korea also became among the most heavily-bombed countries in history.

In popular culture, the Korean War has beenthe source of inspiration for many movies, especially by South Korea. As expected, the course of events in these movies have been heavily disputed by North Korea.

Here are 10 South Korean movies inspired by the Korean war to watch:

The Battle of Jangsari (2019). Credits: Youtube.

1.The Last Witness (2001)

The movie follows Hwang-seok (Ahn Sung-ki), a political prisoner who is released after 50 years of solitary confinement. He is imprisoned as a communist sympathiser in the Korean war.

A day after he is released, a body with stab wounds is found near a harbour. Detective Oh (Lee Jung-jae) investigates the death and finds the deceased is named Yang, a former soldier.

Following the evidence, the detective comes across a blind antique dealer named Ji-hye.

As it turns out the murder victim Yang was responsible for the imprisonment of Hwang-seok.

This makes Hwang-seok a suspect for Yang’s murder. The plot unravels with a series of flashbacks to the Korean War and the infamous Geoje POW Camp.

Located on Geoje island, the camp was a UN POW camp which held North Korean and Chinese prisoners.

So what happened at the camp which connects with Yang’s murder?

2.Taegukgi (2004)

Directed by highly-acclaimed director Kang Je-gyu, this wartime action film stars Jang Dong-gun and Won Bin.

It explorers the story of what happens when two brothers fight each other from opposite sides of the war zone.

Brothers Jin-tae (Jang Dong-gun) and Jin-seok (Won Bin) are unwillingly drafted into the South Korean army during the Korean War.

A superior tellS Jin-tae if he can earn the highest award for a South Korean soldier, his younger brother can be sent home.

His heroism during the urban Battle of Pyongyang (Oct 17-19, 1950) when the UN forces recaptured Seoul finally earns Jin-tae’s nomination for the medal.

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As things sometimes don’t turn the way we planned, both in movies and in real life, the brothers somehow have to face each other in a battle field.

This tragic war film is one of biggest successes in the South Korean film history, attracting up to 11.74 million people to the theatre.

3.Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005)

Tucked away on a remote mountain and untouched by the ongoing Korean War, there is a village called Dongmakgol.

In a twisted fate, three fighting forces come together in that village.

First is a US fighter pilot whose plane crashed in the mountains, then there are three retreating North Korean soldiers and two lost South Korean soldiers.

When the North and South Korean soldiers want to fight against each other, the villagers of Dongmakgol have them agree to a temporary truce.

After a grenade destroys the village’s food storage, the soldiers decide to stay and help the villagers.

Meanwhile, the US believesthere is a major North Korean military presence in the village area and plan an air strike.

In order to spare the village from being destroyed, the soldiers decide to work together to divert the attack.

The movie is actually based on the same-titled long-running stage play by Jang Jin. Although it was director Park Kwang-hyun’s debut film, the film was a commercial and critical success.

Moreover, it was South Korea’s official entry for the foreign language film category of the Academy Awards in 2005.

4.A Little Pond (2009)

Noguen-ri (also known as No Gun Ri) is a village in North Chungcheong Province in central South Korea.

It is the closest site of the No Gun Ri massacre which took place during the Korean War.

The massacre saw the US military kill South Korean civilians who were fleeing their nearby villages.

A South Korean government committee in 2005 certified the names of 163 dead and missing and 55 wounded with many other victims that were never reported.

After reading the Korean translation of The Bridge of No Gun Ri by Associated Press journalists, executive producer Lee Eun of Myung Films was determined to tell the story on the screen.

Because the story is controversial, not many investors wanted to invest into the films. Many of the cast and crew involved in the movie did it pro bono with some even bringing their family members to play the roles of villagers.

5.71: Into the Fire (2010)

From June 1950 to March 1951, students were recruited to fight for South Korea during the Korean War. They called them student soldiers.

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These students volunteered or were conscripted in the Republic of Korea Army as emergency troops to fight against the North Korea.

71: Into the Fire is based on a true-story of a group of 71 student soldiers during the Battle of P’ohang-dong on Aug 11, 1950.

Despite being undertrained, underarmed and outgunned by the North Korean forces, they managed to defend the local P’ohang girls’ middle school.

In the end, 48 of the student soldiers died defending the school. Directed by John H. Lee, the movie stars Cha Seong-won, Choi Seung-hyun and Kim Seung-woo.

The film was made in commemoration of those who fought during the Korean War. Moreover, the movie is to raise awareness of the existence and importance of the student soldiers at that time.

6.In Love and War (2011)

Inspired by the a true story of her grandmother, screenwriter Bae Se-young decided to write the movie In Love and War (2011).

A group of North Korean soldiers stayed for a couple of days at the grandmother’s home because her father was the village leader). Touched by the villagers’ hospitality, one young soldier said that he wanted to stay.

This movie, however, follows a group of North Korean soldiers who enter a small South Korean village who come to “liberate” them.

In fact, the troop’s officer actually wants to find the charming young girl he met 12 years ago when Korea was one country.

As the villagers offer them heartfelt hospitality, strong friendship forms between the soldiers and the villagers.

7.The Front Line (2011)

Set during the 1953 ceasefire of the Korean War, this movies follows the final battle in determining the border between north and south Korean peninsular.

On the Eastern front line of the Aerok Hills, the fight continues in securing a small piece of land.

Those who have watched this movie would agree; there is no villain in The Front Line (2011). Both sides are as guilty and ruthless as the other.

Moreover, there are scenes of camaraderie from both sides as well.

Like any other war films, this movie depicts the horror and sadness of wars whereby there is no “winning” side. When a war breaks, both sides are already losing as both suffer losses and casualties.

The movie stars Shin Ha-kyun, Go Soo and Lee Je-hoon. It was selected as South Korea’s submission to the 84th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. However, it did not make the final shortlist.

8.The Long Way Home (2015)

Set three days before a truce takes place during the Korean War, here is another about the unlikely friendship between North and South Korea.

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It follows Nam-bok (Sol Kyung-gu), a simple farmer before his conscription into the army.

He then receives an order to deliver a top secret document but an attack by the North Korean army leads him to lose the document.

In the meantime, Young-gawang (Yeo Jin-goo) is a teenage North Korean soldier. While his team is heading to the South, they are bombed and he is the only one left.

As he is about to return home, he comes across a top secret document.

What happen to both of them when their paths cross?

9.Operation Chromite (2016)

Here, Liam Neeson plays American General Douglas MacArthur who sends eight members of the Korean Liaison Office on a secret mission behind North Korean lines.

The team is led by a South Korean Navy Lieutenant Jang Hak-soo (Lee Jung-jae). They are tasked to carry out a covert operation called Operation “X-ray”.

Their mission is to determine the placement of North Korean defenses (such as mines and artillery) and the tactical characteristics of the Incheon harbour.

The success of the mission will allow MacArthur to launch the Incheon Landing Operation.

The event in the movie is a fictionalised version of the real-life CIA and US military intelligence operation “Trudy Jackson”.

10.The Battle of Jangsari (2019)

Starring Kim Myung-min and Choi Min-ho, this movie is the second installment in a trilogy following Operation Chromite (2016).

It tells the true story of a group of 772 student soldiers who staged a small diversionary operation at Jangsari beach in Yeongdeok village.

By doing so, they hope to distract North Korean attention from Incheon where the Incheon Landing Operation is about to take place.

Meanwhile, an American reporter and war correspondent Maggie (Megan Fox) who covers the Korean War is trying to to get help from the international community.

Help is definitely needed as the student soldiers struggle to accomplish their mission due to lack of proper training, weapons and food supplies.

The fictional character Maggie is actually based on American war correspondent Marguerite Higgins and photographer Margaret Bourke-White. Both Higgins and Bourke-White were covering the Korean War for New York Herald Tribune and Life respectively.

One critic said the film started out as something like Saving Private Ryan and ended up on the same lines as Pearl Harbour.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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