The movies follows the incident knows as the second battle of Yeonpyeong which happened in 2002.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Northern Limit Line is a portrayal of the 2002 ”Second Battle ofYeonpyeong” (the first having been a somewhat similar encounter a fewyears earlier) in which North Korean warships attacked two South Koreanpatrol boats in disputed waters on the west coast of Korea. (The titlerefers to the maritime boundary that (in the US and ROK view) wasestablished in the 1953 armistice, but which is not accepted by theDPRK.) Some of the external reviews complain that the film isbifurcated — the first part establishing the personalities andinteractions of the crew, and the second part dealing with the battleitself. This, while accurate, seems to miss the point: The message ofthe film is that a nation’s battles are not fought by either flawlessheroes or by oppressed victims. Rather the film presents a ship’s crewthat is both a proud and disciplined unit controlled by a hierarchicalorder of command and a group of individuals with their own ambitions,dreams, fears, friendships, and dislikes. When a unauthorized party orwatching a soccer game on an unauthorized link is interrupted by ageneral stations drill, the sailors show they are displeased, but theygo to their stations. In fact, my sense was that, in contrast to thereviewers’ opinion it is the first part of the film, not the second towhich non-Koreans and those of us who have never served in the militaryshould pay most attention. The concept of showing the character ofrelationships in a military unit is pretty much a standard war moviedevice, but what makes this special is that the relationships aredistinctively Asian. True, there are resemblances to how any collectionof young men (and int the film, also a young female officer) in amilitary unit move between the highly structured military role andbeing typical late adolescents. But in a way that is hard to define,but comes across clearly, there is a special Asian (and presumablyparticularly Korean) character to the interrelationships — the waythey talk, the things they seek, what annoys them, the way they trickthe system in which they nonetheless take pride. In my view, withoutthat establishment of context, the second part –the battle itself –would be just another action sequence and much less involving for theviewer — especially, one suspects, for a Korean audience. We come tocare deeply about what happens to these kids when the North Korean shipturns a routine encounter at sea into a pitched battle. The combatscenes are presented with a candor and explicitness about what war isreally like– the chaos, the terror, the determination, the failuresand bitter costs — that few if any American war flicks would risk. Inparticular, I have seldom seen a film that is as uncompromisinglyhonest about what battle wounds look like– would an American filmshow, as Northern Limit Line does –the severed arm of one of thecentral characters lying next to the hemorrhaging stump? Certainly, thefilm takes a unequivocally pro-South Korea perspective — it is quiteexplicitly a tribute to the skill and dedication of the nation’s navy.But it is both brutally honest about what war means and, in a rathermore low key way, critical of the civilian population who are cheeringat a big soccer match while the battle goes on. That the civilian don’tknow about the battle and pay due honor to their nation’s soldiersafterward makes their innocent detachment from the sacrifices of thesailors who are fighting all the more poignant.
Caught this on Netflix streaming, while I had ”nothing better to do;”and, boy, am I glad I did. ”Northern Limit Line” is, clearly the mostauthentic movie about military life since ”We Were Soldiers”; and itthe most the most authentic film about shipboard life since ”Das Boot”,but a lot more entertaining. Based on a two incident, what would becalled a ”clash” by a news reader in a paragraph on a ”Nightly News,””Nothern Line Limit” is, alternately, suspenseful, exciting, gruelingand, ultimately, touching. Very well written, directed, photographed,acted and scored, ”Northern Limit Line” also contains the longestmodern naval warfare sea battle I have seen. Hollywood could certainlylearn from South Korea about how to film a sea battle. My only slightquibble is the editing. One or two sequences end abruptly, disorientingthe viewer for an instant. The movie could also use a slight trimming,particularly the ”port departure sequence” on the day of the battle.
Inexplicably, I could not enjoy ”Northern Limit Line” on my hometheater system. For some reason, the title does not appear on theNetflix ”Search” menu on my Roku. Too bad, because the sea battle criesout for a big screen and Surround sound. I give ”Northern Limit Line” a”9”.
We start by getting to know the men of the 357 Patrol ship of the SouthKorean Navy. A good bunch of men who, being human, kid around, have funand generally work very hard and then let off tension as any normalperson does, be it sneaking a feast on the bow or cheering on theirhometown soccer team. We get to meet their families as well and seejust how much those people back home mean to them.
We also see what a bunch of punks the North Koreans are. OK, sure,they’re not about to be shown as sympathetic characters, but why shouldthey be? They started this entire incident, as they often do. Punks.And when you compare the ships, you see the difference between a modernfree society and a backwards one being run by some little runt withsomething to prove. But I digress.
This movie was filmed magnificently and very believably. We (in theWestern Hemisphere)often see movies made in other nations and feel theylook a little cheesy compared to our slick productions. That’s a bitcondescending, but I’m sure many who may read this know what I mean. Weget to know these guys and like them. They’re good people and the shipsnew Commander starts out a bit of a hard nose, but even he sees that,this likable bunch will do anything for someone they both respect andlike and mutual admiration and affection between officers and crewtruly brings them all together.
Then disaster, and for what? Muscle flexing of the worst kind and thisentire sequence, the battle sequence is both exciting and heartbreakingas we see those we’ve gotten to know being shot up by…well, the badguys. It’s very well done and riveting.
I was not fully aware until the end that this was indeed a true storyand yup, I teared up. I teared up for the men of 357, I teared up fortheir families and the horror they all faced in their different ways. Ialso teared up for the world that we must tolerate nations like NorthKorea who seem to simply exist only to provoke, incite and threaten.They have no meaning otherwise and this movie, should I say, this storyis proof.
It’s a wonderful movie on a number of levels. I’ve reviewed this moviefrom a soapbox, but this movie tells truth in a very dramatic fashionand tells it well. For a history lesson and for a lesson in nationalterrorism and current events, this movie is a must see.