NORTHERN LIMIT LINE — Naval Drama Looks At North/South Korean Contention

Northern Limit Line hit Blu-ray on October 20 from Well Go USA.

As the film explains in its opening, the title Northern Limit Line is a reference to the boundaries of North Korean waters in the Yellow Sea, although North and South Korea have disputed over the actual placement of these boundaries.

In 2002, an engagement between North and South naval forces took place, which came to be come known as the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong. The film is a dramatization of this event.

(screenshot from the trailer)

In the film, we meet the crew of the South Korean patrol ship which will eventually come under attack. Most of the crewmen are very young, in their early 20s. We join the crew along with newbie medic Corporal Park Dong-hyuk (Lee Hyun-woo), who looks about 12 years old, and it’s through his orientation process and building friendships that we come to know the ship’s various crewmen and officers before they get dropped into a gauntlet of bullets when a Northern ship crosses the maritime border and suddenly attacks them mercilessly.

The film’s battle sequence is well shot and surprisingly bloody and visceral, and all the more jarring because the film is pretty gentle for its first two-thirds up until the bullets start flying. Even though the battle scale is small — two patrol ships firing on one another — the intimacy of the violence puts you right into the middle of it all.

Unfortunately, it all feels just a bit disingenuous. The film is in many ways designed to be both very patriotic and a melodrama, but one can clearly see the hands pulling the strings, starting with the casting of dorky and boyish looking actors as the heroes to pull at our heartstrings when they start dying.

The battle took place while South Korea competed in the World Cup tournament, and that backdrop is strongly emphasized and weaved into the story in a away that basically gives license for the characters and filmmakers to literally cheer “Go Korea!” and appeal directly to its audience’s national pride.

Meanwhile, the North Koreans are depicted as nefarious attackers, and while there’s probably a lot of truth in that, no attempt is made to explain their motivations for breaching the border or attacking. This is not only a one-sided approach, but a narratively unsatisfying one as well.

And yet, despite seeing the tricks and understanding its emotional manipulation, I still found Northern Limit Line pretty compelling. At some of the film’s more emotional moments, I cried despite being keenly aware of the film’s obvious heart-tugging tactics. It may be close to propaganda with its feverish patriotism and cartoon villains, but it’s powerful. There’s power in brotherhood and camaraderie. There’s power in sacrifice. There’s power in seeing young lives lost. There’s power in a mother’s anguish when her son dies. And when it comes down to it, North Korea is definitely guilty of military aggressions, excessive demonstrations of power, and general asshole tendencies, and there’s power in showing this as well.

I can’t say for sure how true Northern Limit Line rings as a recreation of the historical event that inspired it, but as a film it’s compelling. And if nothing else, its box office success in its home country makes it clear that it’s a major cultural document and commentary on contemporary Korean thought.

The Package

Northern Limit Line arrived on Blu-ray (and DVD) from Well Go USA on October 20. The disc has a handful of trailers but no other extra features.

Special Features and Extras

Trailer (2:08)

Promo Trailers (5:13)
 Trailers for Well Go USA releases Assassination (1:40), Wolf Warrior (1:37), and The Front Line (1:55). These trailers auto-play on disc startup and can also be selected from the menu.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
 Northern Limit Line [Blu-ray] | [DVD]

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