We forget how grim the Korean War looked in 1950. Incheon was safely under iron-fisted Communist control and the front line was all the way down at Busan. However, the tide decisively turned when Gen. Douglas MacArthur led a massive amphibious landing at Incheon (commonly referred to as Inchon in contemporary accounts).
An operation like that did not happen without planning. It also required the covert efforts of a team of South Korean commandos attached to the Korean Liaison Office (KLO). Their secret Operation X-Ray will pave the way for the grand titular assault in John H. Lee’s somewhat fact-based “Operation Chromite.”
Jang Hak-soo was once a Communist in the North, but the atrocities he saw drove him to defect to the South. Of course, that makes him the perfect candidate to impersonate Park Nam-chul, a military inspector due to give the Incheon fortifications the white glove treatment. He is played by the always reliable Park Sun-woong, but don’t get too attached to him, for obvious reasons.
Operation X-Ray’s primary objective is the map of the mines placed throughout the narrow inlet to Incheon’s harbor. Unfortunately, the fanatical local commander, Col. Lim Gye-jin holds it closer to his vest than a hand full of five aces. Still, Jang and his men nearly swipe it in a daring daylight heist.
With their cover consequently blown, the KLO team will have to improvise with the help of the local underground. The formerly true-believing nurse Han Jae-sun will also join their ranks when her uncle is publicly executed by Lim.
“Chromite” is a terrific war movie in the “Guns of Navarone” tradition that approaches the all-out action nirvana of Choi Dong-hoon’s “Assassination,” but also encompasses the great men and grand strategy of prestige war films.
While Lee Jung-jae was wonderfully despicable as the turncoat villain in “Assassination,” he gets to play the hero this time, carrying himself with mucho action cred and fierce dignity.
Lee Beom-soo gleefully preens and chews the scenery with relish as the arrogant Lim, while Jin Se-yun has some rather poignant moments as the rudely disillusioned Han.
However, Liam Neeson will shock the world with his hardnosed but deeply humanistic portrayal of Gen. MacArthur. Unlike previous media caricatures, director John H. Lee and screenwriter Lee Man-hee depict the corn-cob-smoking icon as a soldiers’ general, who profoundly empathizes with the South Koreans and chafes under bureaucratic hand-wringing. He goes far beyond Tommy Lee Jones’ Rich Little act in “Emperor,” getting to “old soldier” who considers it immoral that DC politicians would ask his men to fight and die with anything less than full victory as their objective.
John H. Lee is becoming the preeminent cinematic chronicler of the Korean War, following-up the first-rate “71: Into the Fire“ with the even more engaging and ambitious “Chromite.” The special effects are impressive, but they never overwhelm the human story.
Refreshingly patriotic and loaded with adrenaline and testosterone, it is a ripping good war film that keeps faith with the South Koreans, Americans and Allied forces who served in the conflict.
Highly recommended, “Operation Chromite” opens this Friday, Aug. 12, in New York, at the AMC Empire.
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit jbspins.blogspot.com