As part of the monthly “Korean Movie Night” program, The Korean Cultural Center of NY paired up with AMC Empire 25 to give New Yorkers a pre-screening of South Korea’s latest blockbuster film, “Operation Chromite”. Set to premiere on August 12 in New York City, “Operation Chromite” is a historical action film based on the Icheon Mission during the South Korean War. The Icheon mission was considered the most impossible feat with the chances of success 1:50,000. Due to its location in the peninsula with a very narrow river and with the communist faction in control of its terrain, the ability to land at Icheon is a great military risk. The mission however, proved successful with the efforts of the South Korean patriot spies infiltrating the Communist controlled Icheon.
The film features an all-star cast of famous Korean actors. Lee Jung-jae, a popular South Korean action star. He previously premiered as a double-spy agent in “Assassination” (2015) and as a underdog detective-cop in “Veteran” (2015). In “Operation Chromite” he takes on the complex character of Jang Hak-su, a communist defector who works as a spy for the U.S and South Korean forces. General Douglas MacArthur is played by Liam Neeson, famous for his Oscar-winning performance in the historical drama film “Schindler’s List”, which takes place in WWII Europe. The film also features actors Kim Byung-Ok (Oldboy/Lady Vengeance), Park Sung-woong ( New World/ The Deal) and Oh Dal-su (Assassination/ Veteran).
The story begins with a brief introduction to the spy team that infiltrates a train with a troop of communist soldiers in order to infiltrate the main communist base in Icheon. Once at Icheon, the spy team tries to find blueprints for the maritime tactics which only the Communist Commander Rim Kye-jin knows. Jang Hak-su, the main leader of the squad, attempts to befriend Rim Kye-jin to retrieve the info. However, the squad’s cover is exposed resulting in various shootouts, executions, kidnapping and more risky operations. Since it is a film, there are plenty of heart-wrenching moments, such as when the soldiers say good-bye to their families before leaving to their next mission and the final words between master and servant before their execution. The communist in this film, are depicted as the villains who persecute anyone who goes against the communist ideals. The commander Rim Kye-jin often says “Ideology runs thicker than blood”, as a justification for his orders to execute people who are religious, still have Confucius ideals, or speak against communism in general. Unlike other war films, the director doesn’t censor any of the violence and often spends a few extra minutes to depict the human emotion in consequence of the raw brutality. A recurring theme throughout the film is the concept of loyalty to family, tradition, and patriotism. Each character has their own idea of what their country means to them, which is shown through flashbacks of when each spy met General Arthur MacDouglas. Even Rim Kye-jin, the main villain, confesses at the end, “All we want is to live a better life, right?”. General Arthur MacDouglas, is mostly depicted as a father figure to the spies, for granting them a second chance to fight for their country as seen through flashback encounters when he arrives at the war stricken peninsula. His inner tenderness is shown through his impressions of the courage he saw in each soldier he enlisted and ultimately in his complete trust on the spies to signal him when the mission is completed. However, we also the general’s toughness when he meets with the other military commanders to talk about the operation often dubbed “Another Normandy attempt”.
The film in content is patriotic to the South Korean – U.S alliance, especially with the closing credits dedicating the film to the 17 members of the spy squad and their families for their sacrifices during the war. “Operation Chromite” is a reminder to the U.S of its contributions to the Korean War of 1950, often dubbed as “The Forgotten War” in U.S history. In contemporary South Korea, it serves as a reminder of the importance of the U.S – South Korea alliance and the sacrifices that were made during the War of 1950. The film is also patriotic for premiering on South Korea’s 63rd Anniversary of the Korean Armistice and the 66th anniversary of the UN Forces joining the operation. “Operation Chromite” is Director John H. Lee’s second war film, after “71: Into the Fire” (2010). The film’s recent success has gained him a reputation as a one of the rising international East Asian directors.