71: Into the Fire is based on the battle of P'ohang-dong in August 1950 where 71 barely trained students of the South Korean army, armed with nothing more than a few rifles, held off a vastly superior North Korean force for over eleven hours. The film tells the story of those young students and how they managed to hold back the North Korean army for so long.
I am a big fan of Korean cinema but none of the actors were known to me before watching. The standard of acting from the mostly young cast is excellent however. Actor/rapper Choi Seung-hyun leads the students as their inexperienced and frightened Captain. We see Choi transform during the film from a frightened ammo carrier in the films opening scene, into a confident and calculating leader at the films climax. He is supported by a cast of great individual characters who due to the numbers involved see little screen time. One standout is Kwon Sang-woo, playing Choi’s rival. He reminded me of
Royale’s Taro Yamamoto with his bravery and nonsense attitude. Battle
The battle scenes in 71: Into the Fire rival any in Saving Private Ryan or Letters from
Iwo Jima. One feels right at the centre of the action as the bullets goes whizzing by and explosions tear through soldiers and buildings alike. The film was made for a fraction of the cost of recent Hollywood War Films but feels just as well made and in my opinion you have more value for money here than in the likes of Ryan and Iwo Jima. 71: also has a strong emotional edge to it. You feel for the soldiers and desperately want them to pull through despite the odds being stacked against them. Choi’s narration of the letters he is unable to send to his mother adds to the emotion and sadness of the film.
While I still believe the best recent film about the Korean War is 2004’s Brotherhood, 71: Into the Fire is a fantastic film that is well worth the time to watch.