Story: Captain Lee Myeong-joon (Kim Myung-min) brings 772 students with a ship to Jangsa-ri, a coast which was conquered by North-Korean soldiers. This move is supposed to be a diversion so that General MacArthur has the opportunity to land in Incheon and lead his "Operation Chromite" to success. Because of bad weather and heavy seas the landing ends in a catastrophe. Especially because the radio equipment doesn't work and air support arrives too late. Despite the adverse circumstances and the numerous deaths, the students Choi Seong-pil (Choi Min-ho), Gi Ha-ryoon (Kim Sung-cheol) and many more manage to defeat the North Koreans. The base might be taken now, but new North Korean troops are already on their way. Moreover, the students have almost no food rations anymore and the last radio equipment is broken as well. Therefore, Captain Lee decides to surprise the approaching troops with an attack in order to get a radio device.
In the meantime, the reporter Maggie (Megan Fox) finds out that, given the circumstances, the Americans plan to sacrifice the student unit. So, the reporter fights to get the students back from Jangsa-ri. She finds a sympathetic ear with General Stevens (George Eads), but things are not that easy because Stevens received different orders from his superior. With each passing hour, surviving seems pretty unlikely for the students...
Review: In Korea there is still a steep demand for war movies. This is no surprise as the focus lies strongly on melodramatics and mostly manages to win over the masses of moviegoers. However, in the last couple of years, movies like "The Battleship Island" or "Swing Kids" also stood out in a more positive way. "The Battle of Jangsari" actually has a story worth telling. After all, it is about young people, who go to war in order to defend their country, while nowadays, a cynic might say, young people are only glued to the screen and, at best, play war games like "Call of Duty". In general, the movie is doing everything right. There are brutal battles, friendships are formed and people are pulled out of their lives. All this is exciting and gripping, but essentially, we have already seen all that before. This wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the disappointing finale, which comes to nothing.
A fascinating aspect is that this time, the Americans under General MacArthur are not portrayed solely as glorious heroes. They actually let the students walk right into a trap and accept the fact that none of them might come out alive. In order not to let the Americans seem too unscrupulous Megan Fox ("Transformers") plays a secondary character as the reporter with a strong sense of justice, while George Eads ("CSI") plays a General to whom the students are not unimportant, after all. With its international cast "The Battle of Jangsari" aims at gaining an audience beyond Korean borders, but because of the strongly melodramatic approach of Korean war movies, this proves to be rather difficult. But at least, the American actors are now above B-movie level. The rest of the movie also manages to hide the fact that the producers didn't have an enormous budget.
Maybe, the battle scenes are not as epic as they were in "Taegukgi", but the effects, especially the explosions and the fights on the battlefield, turned out pretty realistic. Thankfully, the directors held back on CGI. There are real tanks as well as gun emplacements, ships etc. Maybe, there is a little less of these things than there would be in a lavishly produced work, but this is okay because all the important aspects of an (anti-)war movie are checked off. Especially at the beginning and in the middle, we get some very well-choreographed battles and fights. But the focus is on the students who are partly still just children. They are pulled out of school or university and suddenly have to fight for their country. In the process, they lose their childhood innocence and all this is not just limited to the South Korean side. The youngsters are mere tools for the adults.
Of course, it is not as if the adolescents go to war completely against their will. Every single one of them has a reason, but for all of them the adults' ideologies have come to fruition. The movie also shows the arbitrary division of North and South. What could the youth possibly know about the ideas behind the different political beliefs on how a country should be run? Seong-pil, played by SHINee member Choi Min-ho ("Illang: The Wolf Brigade"), meets his cousin in the North and the drama takes its course. The good thing is that the story concentrates on him and Ha-ryoon. The enmity between the two wears off after some time and maybe there is even something like friendship forming. However, all this is happening far too quickly and therefore it is not believable. Instead, it offers another opportunity to bring more drama into the flick.
Kim Tae-hoon shares the directing job with Kwak Gyeong-taek, and the latter is well-known for getting some over-the-top drama going, only think of "Pain". In "The Battle of Jangsari" it is not that bad, though, because we don't have to suffer through one cliché after the other. Nevertheless, especially the ending seems unnecessary because it is packed with drama. Only to cram some more dramatic moments into the movie, there are numerous inexplicable situations in the finale. Then there is also an epilogue the likes of which you have seen hundreds of times in Korean war movies before. In addition, the movie lacks a spectacular showdown. Surely, a war movie which shows the terrors of war on an interpersonal level is praiseworthy, but then "The Battle of Jangsari" shouldn't have created false expectations with the action-packed scenes at the beginning and in the middle. So, after all, what's left is a mediocre war drama with a nice gimmick.