Hank’s Recommendations 11/13/12

Veteran’s Day is every day for veterans who find it difficult or impossible to convey what their experiences in war were like except, perhaps, to other veterans who were there. To take just one of those wars, for ourselves we can commemorate Veteran’s Day by remembering the Forgotten War in these good movies. The first is one of the most impressive visually and melodramatically, recently arrived and now in our New Foreign Arrival section.

FRONT LINE — During the three years of seemingly unending truce discussions, a South Korean intelligence officer’s insubordination has him sent to the front lines—Hill Aero-K—where the fierce and brutal fighting continues. Possession of this otherwise barren hill alternates between the opposing sides after each bloody assault, offering an eye view into the futile horrors that distinguish the Korean War: men on both sides dying brutally in freezing cold for a barren piece of land that has no strategic or material value while the “peace” talks drag interminably on.

Each of the characters has his (and, in once case, her) own story that particularizes the hell made there. Their compelling interactions are complemented by a spectacular and precise realism in the battle sequences. In one way, the hill itself is a starring character.

Through the pressures of war and story, you will find yourself attached to all of the characters: the intelligence officer who discovers a former friend he believed dead and, indeed, in a way has died; the captain whose inspiring leadership involves a morphine addiction to help him suppress memories of an earlier, necessary sacrifice of men under his command; a seventeen year old recruit who grows up too fast; the battle-hardened sergeant of many campaigns who accepts his inevitable fate. In this no-exit hell, where the participants try to make sense of a senseless war, heroics bred largely by desperation are on ample display here, and through one vividly rendered battle after another you get to know the hill all too well. If anything, this “over the top” film makes its points too persuasively: the viewer come away feeling a little like part of the collateral damage. But there’s no denying the power of this film, and what it makes you remember about this Forgotten War.

Distinguished by its own meticulously rendered action style and its character involvement, this South Korean movie ranks as one of the best anti-war films, along with Dalton Trumbo’s JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN and Stanley Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY.

Other highly recommended films you might want to check out about this war are THE BRIDGES OF TOKO-RI, with William Holden and Grace Kelley, MEN IN WAR, with Aldo Ray, TAE GUK GI: THE  BROTHERHOOD OF WAR, and PORK CHOP HILL, with Gregory Peck, about the last hill fought over before the announcement of the truce. Two great films about the war as experienced domestically are THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and—one of my all-time favorites—THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, with Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh and Angela Lansbury.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also recommend, from our Audio CD room, David Halberstam’s THE COLDEST WINTER: AMERICA AND THE KOREAN WAR. Halbertstam’s best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST, about Vietnam. The Coldest Winter is a beautifully clear book about this especially horrendous and “forgotten” war. It is read by Edward Herrmann, a gifted actor and reader. Halberstam is a great writer, and his succinct history tells you a lot about the Korean War itself and how, though forgotten, it laid the template for our geopolitical strategy ever since. Take a long ride somewhere and listen to it.