“Northern Limit Line” is a South Korean film by Kim Hak-soon. It took him seven years to get funding for the production. Some of the funds came from a crowdfunding effort that included contributions from the South Korean national soccer team. The movie was well-received and was nominated for best picture at the South Korean equivalent of the Academy Awards. It is based on the novel by Choi Soon-jo. It tells the story of the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong Island.
The movie takes place in 2002. South Korea is in the midst of patriot fervor over the third place World Cup match with Turkey. Patrol boat 357 is assigned to patrol the sea border between the Koreas. This line is called the Northern Limit Line. It is disputed as the North Koreans claim it should be further south. The boat has a new commander – Lt. Commander Yoon (Kim Mu-yeol). Also new is a medic named Park (Lee Hyan-woo). They join a tight-knit crew that has pictures of kids, wives, and girlfriends posted on a bulletin board. Oh oh. They are watching the soccer match when they get an emergency order to sail. Yoon questions the Rules of Engagement that forbids them to open fire first. 357 picks up some “fishermen” who are obviously North Koreans. They are told to release them. Meanwhile, in Pyongyang, silent planning is taking place.
On June 29, North Korean patrol boats cross the line. They have T-34 tank turrets on them! Waste not, want not. Those turrets open fire and 357 catches hell. The running battle is intense. We get slo-mo, sound dilution, and graphic wounds including dismemberments. The bodies pile up. In other words, it’s a South Korean war movie.
“Northern Limit Line” is a worthy addition to one of my favorite subgenres – the South Korean war film. It takes a while to get to the balls to the wall battle scene. There is some good character development. Yoon, Park, and the helmsman Han (Jin Goo) get back-stories. For example, Yoon’s father was a captain who was demoted for refusing to execute a spy. There are some clichés. Yoon is a martinet in need of humanizing. He also has daddy issues. Han needs redemption. Park must earn respect under the pressure of combat. The main actors perform well. You care about these men and there is some heart-tugging. There must have been some tears in South Korean movie theaters. In fact, the families had been reluctant to sign off on the film until another incident occurred. The movie definitely pushes patriotic buttons, but it also depicts some of the crew performing less than bravely.
The film is well made. The music is low key during the battle and then shifts to more pompous during the aftermath. The post script includes actual footage of the funerals. The movie is nothing special until the combat scene. But is worth the wait. The combat section takes up a big chunk of the film. If you have seen any South Korean war movies, you know what to expect. Basically it’s “Tae Guk Gi” on the water. Since it is a naval combat movie, we get a good taste of South Korean naval culture. Unlike “Tae Guk Gi”, this one is based on a true story.
GRADE = B
HISTORICAL ACCURACY: The movie is based on the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong Island on June 29, 2002. This battle was the most volatile encounter of many between the patrol forces of the two Koreas. It began with an incursion by a North Korean boat. That boat was warned by Chamsuri 357 with no effect and then a second joined it. The two intruders attacked and a fire fight broke out with 357. The boat was hit in the wheelhouse and Yoon was killed. 357 was joined by Chamsuri 358 and a ten minute fire fight broke out. A total of six crewmen on the 357 were killed including Park. Han’s body was found at sea. The battle ended when reinforcements arrived and the North Koreans withdrew. The North Koreans lost 13 killed in action. The 357 sank while under tow.
I classify "Northern Limit Line" as a Korean War movie. After all, the war did not officially end. Here is my ranking of the Korean Korean War movies:
1. Tae Guk Gi
3. Northern Limit Line
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