Northern Limit Line / 연평해전 (2015) Korean Movie Review

Northern Limit Line / 연평해전 (2015) Korean Movie Review

#KimMooYul #JinGoo #LeeHyunWoo  #LeeChungAh #연평해전

Hello. This is Prof. AKIA with another HOT Korean movie called “Northern Limit Line” or “연평해전” in Korean. For those who are new, I talk about new Korean movies that are currently showing in theaters in Korea right now. Here is a trailer!

Movies based on historical or “real” events can be a tricky thing to pull off because of the “real” adjective. The accuracy of historical events tends to become an issue because, even beyond the discussion of creators’ interpretation of events, the movies are nowhere near accurate most of the time. Just the act of fitting events into the movie format requires the use of creative license.  Making the movie interesting enough so that people will cough up enough cash to make the movie’s bottom line dip generously into black requires more “creative” license. 

Rant Starting!

This rather natural practice when adapting material into a movie tends to go into hyper drive when the movie is made in Korea by Koreans. We are comfortable enough with molding what happened just yesterday to our conveniences that we do not blink an eye lash doing the same to stuff that happened a few years ago.

Rant Ending!

If I think about it, it may not be fair to judge a movie based on its historical accuracy. At the same time, it may not be also fair to give a movie a pass just because it is portraying a historical event that one thinks is important.

It’s complicated…?

Because of these issues, I am just going to judge a movie based on the movie itself. And, sadly, “Northern Limit Line” (2015) makes it too easy.

The Plot
The movie, “Northern Limit Line” (2015), is based on the real life events that happened in 2002. On the 29th of June that year, there was a naval skirmish between South Korean and North Korean ships following North Korea’s incursion into South Korean waters. The English title “Northern Limit Line” infers to this ocean borders.

In this skirmish, 6 sailors were killed and another 19 were injured just on the Southern side. This event is called the 2nd Naval Battle of Yeonpyeong and the Korean title of this movie just dropped the “2nd” part.

Streamline the S**t, baby!

The movie is somewhat of an ensemble movie following some of the fateful ship’s crew. I mean doomed ship because it will be sunk at the end of the movie. While this is somewhat of a spoiler, it is a historical event after all.

Go google it!

So, I do not really care. In addition, “Northern Limit Line” (2015) is s type of movie that is made based on the assumption that its audience already knows the tragic fate of the characters involved. Thus, it works best when you are already in the know.

How to be lazy on the Job
Have you ever come out of a movie being confident that you know what was going on in the writer’s brain while the script was being written?

It happens to me a lot especially with Korean movies as their scripts not only need a lot more work done on them but need a few more “fresh” eyeballs on them before getting the green light to go ahead. “Northern Limit Line” (2015) is also a movie that falls into that category.

It really needs a page one rewrite!

You start with the final battle in the 3rd act with all its valiant sacrifice and tragic deaths. This is your money shot. You can expect the Korean audience, who already know what happens, to cry a small lake of tears even if you just put the bare minimum of effort into it. So, you liberally copy the 3rd act battle scene of “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) and you got your 3rd act.

What about the other 2 acts prior to the 3rd act?

At this point, you are rather stuck. You have to fill in about 100 more minutes of this movie and do not have much to go on in term of plot considering nothing much happened prior to the fateful event at the climax of the movie.

The only thing you really have is the so called “real life” characters you just killed off or at least wounded in the 3rd act. While you expect Koreans to just care about these characters on the basis of their real life counterparts, you decide to put “some” effort into actually making the audience care on the merit of the characters alone. You have the time.

This means looking into who these real life people were, right?

However, that would more effort than you would want to put in. Why try to tell an actual human story when you have a guarantee that people will cry at the end even if the characters are just cartoon scribbles? So, you take the easy route.

How do I know this?

I do not think the “Big Guy up there” is that lazy a writer that he would put at least 3 war movies’ worth of cliché characters in a single ship of 27 men in real life.  To be more specific, all of these clichés are compressed into 3 characters as the others members of the crew basically have no characters at all.

No idea who those dudes are and what they do!

medic character


Anyway back to the main characters. There is the “incompetent” medic character who is basically a clone of the “Upham” from “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). I did say that that the Spielberg movie is a huge influence on this movie. He is also the new guy and the “knows nothing but nice” guy. He is also the “audience stand in” character who introduces the audience to the world of the movie.

So much cliché packed into one character.
He is not alone.
He is also the most boring character among the main three.

Hand-shakes guy

The second main character is the guy for whom being the sailor is everything. He is also the guy who suffers from the hand-shakes for no real reason and hides it even though it might endanger his crew.  He is the soon to be new father. He is the “a few weeks away from shore duty” guy. The third main character is the captain of the boat who is the new “by the book” captain assigned to a troubled ship. He is also the rogue “fire brand” captain constantly confronting his superiors. He is the son of a wrongfully disgraced former navy officer who has  a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.

the captain

Why does a Movie need Arcs?
Having very cliché characters even to the degree of “Northern Limit Line” (2015) does not mean that one cannot do something interesting. As with many other genres, the war movie genre has its own considerable amount of cliché that many movies are not free from. The largest problem with “Northern Limit Line” (2015) is that the movie has no real arcs.

“McHale's Navy” (1962)

More accurately, it fails to properly develop any of the cliché arcs it setup by cramming so much cliché into the 3 characters. In terms of the overall story arc, the movie seems to setup a “return to grace” arc with a new “by the book” captain taking command of a ragtag group of misfits. Think “McHale's Navy” (1962) or “Down Periscope” (1996).

It is a common story arc.

As a result, a large portion of the movie feels like a goofy comedy which does not mesh well with the tragic drama portions of the movie. In a way, it feels rather disrespectful to make the sailors into goofy ball incompetent people but I said that I’m not going into the whole historical accuracy debate. And this is not the biggest problem.

The problem with this story arc is that the 2nd act of the movie never actually contributes to the development of the story arc. It is just filler. You have random gags inserted here and there. You have characters on random side plot that have no real impact on the overall plot in the name of character building. The problem with this is that there is not much of a character to build upon in the first place. So, you just are left thinking why am I watching this dull S**t!

What is weird is that, once the story enters the 3rd act but before the climactic event of the movie, the movie assumes that the story arc is already wrapped up. It acts as if the crew is not a well-oiled machine all under the leadership of the new captain. However, we do not see this actually in the movie. In other words, the story arc is missing a main body section.

This is the same for the main 3 “cliché filled” main characters as none of their individual character arcs actually get a main body section. The new idiot medic somehow overcome getting bullied and is now accepted by the crew. The “hand shake” guy has decided to transfer to shore duty and is awaiting a new baby. The captain… I do not know what is happening with that guy. The movie even creates a totally fictional female captain for him to interact with a decade prior to the Korean navy appointing its first ever female captain of a ship in real life and the movie does nothing with the two.

I would have even accepted a silly romance at this point!

Overall, I think that the movie had no idea what to do with anything beyond the actual naval conflict. I mean the movie has about 15 minutes dedicated to characters either watching or talking about the 2002 Korean-Japan Soccer World cup. The movie even shows about 5 minutes worth of stock news broadcast footage about the alethic event. While there are some story related reasons to include 2002 Korean-Japan Soccer World cup in the movie and I know Koreans get worked up about this type of event, there is no story reason for it to be a central part of the movie. This is just a poor attempt to fill in the time.

Naval Combat is Still Interesting
While the bulk of the movie is rather just boring and a waste of time, the time spent on the actual naval incident is at the minimum interesting. Even during the 1st and 2nd acts, there are some interesting scenes actually involving the navy doing navy stuff without any goofy comedy. However, they are far and few between.

This changes when the movie enters its 3rd act. The movie becomes primarily about the naval aspects which is a welcome change. You get to see how the overall series of events led up to the tragic events and this is even before shots are fired. The actually final combat scenes are pretty fun overall as we basically see two small ships open fire at each other in relatively short ranges. The explosions and overall action choreography is pretty decent for a movie that had several crises related to its funding running out during production.

If I think about it, the movie does do a great job at spreading the few bucks it had around to make the movie at least look realistic.  Setting aside the flashy lights and sounds, the final naval battle of the movie is something new.  The South Korean ship involved is a high-speed patrol “boat” with a crew of about 27 sailors. It is small for navy standards. Most war movies focused its navy battles on combat between larger ships.

It is a fun time!

However, this part of the movie is not without its problems. First, the movie is not able consistently differentiate its naval combat from the typical movie ground combat after the first shots are fired. As a result, the movie reminds me of the last ground battle of “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) a lot. As a side note, the new medic character is as useless as the “Upham” character in “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) also.

Second, the battle seems over exaggerated for what it actually was. From how it is portrayed in the movie, it feels as if there were at least 100 sailors on the boat and most of them got killed. However, when the dust settled, there were only 27 on the boat according to the movie and reality. And only 6 actually got killed.

Third, the movie creates a fictional bad guy on the side of the North Koreans for the purpose of simplifying the story. Leaving aside the fact that this is a really low ball movie, the movie does not do much with him. A similar thing happened with “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” (2014) and it didn’t work then. This should not be surprise since all the North Koreans feel like Roger Moore era Bond villains in the movie. 

At The End
In many ways, “Northern Limit Line” is somewhat of a socially important movie in Korea. This is because “Northern Limit Line” is a propaganda (no judgment here) movie to promote the valiant sacrifices of the Korean military. In other words, it is pro-military and anti-communist.

Considering that you do not see this kind of movie in Korea often because of the political establishment’s radical left leaning tendencies over the last two decades or so, this attempt is something new and is at least interesting.  The fact that a lot of the movie’s budget was funded via crowd sourcing is revealing of how the mood of certain portions of the Korean populations are reacting to the past two decades of the left’s dominance in the political arena. As a side note, the Korean arts community has been on the radical left for more than 3 decades.

It is also a good thing that the sailors who died and were wounded are actually getting recognition, that the prior governments refused to give, because of the publicity generated by this movie. So, it is a shame that the movie itself is not great.

Northern Limit Line” (2015) is an example of how a lazy writer builds up a movie starting at the end of the story. From the point of a cohesive story, the movie fails. However, a few interesting combat scenes do save it from being a total waste of time.  In other words, it is falls straight down the middle of the “have serious problems but has enough interesting stuff to make it worth watching at least once” movie category. I might be a little too generous but I will give  “Northern Limit Line /연평해전” (2015) a C grade.

Score: C or 4.5 /10

This was Prof. AKIA and thanks for reading my review.
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Past Reviews. Click on the pictures

Intimate Enemies/나의 절친 악당들(2015) Review
Perfect Proposal / 은밀한 유혹 (2015) Review

The Shameless /무뢰한 (2015)  Review

The Treacherous (2015)  Review

The Chronicles of Evil/악의 연대기 (2015)  Review

Love Clinic 연애의 맛(2015)  Review

Coin Locker Girl / Chinatown 차이나타운 (2015) Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) Review

Revivre 화장 (2015) Review

Twenty (2015)  Review

The pictures and video used in this review are done for criticism purposes and are the properties of those copyright holders. This review is mine.
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