Film Review: Northern Limit Line

A huge success in its native country, 'Northern Limit Line' is an epic yet very personal treatment of a notorious modern battle incident in Korea.
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Kim Hak-soon's Northern Limit Line depicts events during the summer 2002 World Cup games, when South Korea, which made it into the playoffs for the first time, rabidly cheered for third place against Turkey. On June 29, a North Korean patrol boat entered South Korean waters and launched a surprise attack on a South Korean patrol craft, Chamsuri 357. The battle's toll included the death of six and injuries for nine South Koreans, and some 30 casualties for the North.

Crowd-funded by about 60,000 people who donated to the $6 million budget, Kim's vision, seven years in the making, is a highly personal focus on the men who were involved, his stated wish to bring peace to the world's last divided country. The film was shot in 3D, which this reviewer was unfortunately unable to experience, but it's an impressive, highly moving—if overlong—achievement nonetheless.

We get to know and deeply care about the men, played by an attractive, highly able and very personable cast. Standouts include Lee Hun-woo as a rookie medic who deals with some initial hazing, and Jin Goo as a seaman with a chronic trembling hand which becomes a serious issue on deck. The film is also distinctive for the presence of a lot of strong women as the men's mothers and partners, who add rich human flavor to the mix. Onboard, the sailors’ interactions are convincing and often quite funny—with ample Mr. Roberts-like humorous antics.

The climactic battle scenes are masterfully staged and don't stint on graphic imagery, reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan. The negatively biased portrayal of North Koreans may cause some objections amongst the more even-minded, and somewhat belie Kim's peacemaking intentions, but this is a propagandistic (for peace) war film after all and, like those obsessed-over soccer games, they always need somebody to root against.

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