In 1950, at the dawn of the Korean War, South Korean troops stage a diversionary operation at Jangsari beach to shift attention away from the Allied landing at Incheon. Led by Captain Lee Myung-Joon (Kim Myung-Min), seven-hundred-and-seventy two young, inexperienced students-turned-soldiers storm a North Korean stronghold fighting through superior numbers and unimaginable hardship that take a tragic toll.
This lavish war epic aims to spotlight an incident, simultaneously tragic and heroic, that while hitherto unheralded elsewhere is of obvious importance to the nation of South Korea. The second instalment of a Korean war trilogy following 2016's Operation Chromite, which featured Liam Neeson as General Douglas MacArthur, The Battle of Jangari strikes an odd tone midway between the gut-wrenching sentiment of Saving Private Ryan (1998) (from whence co-directors Kwak Kyung-taek and Kim Tae-hoon rather shamelessly lift more than a few shots and sequences!) and the contrived melodramatic bombast of Pearl Harbor (2001). Gung-ho would be too strong a term in this instance, but as war films go it still skews more towards the celebratory than the caustic. It spotlights individual acts of patriotism, bravery and self-sacrifice, eulogizing the heroism of these brave young men while critiquing those that either exploited or took them for granted. Be that callous South Korean generals or cavalier American allies.
Voicing most of that outrage is imported Hollywood guest star Megan Fox. Sporting bleach blonde hair and a brassy attitude she plays legendary war correspondent Marguerite Higgins. No doubt Megan Fox savoured this chance to break away from her sex bomb image to tackle a weightier role of historical significance of the sort Hollywood seems uninterested in offering her. Though one imagines the Korean filmmakers were also hoping her glamour might entice international viewers less enamoured with foreign war epics. While Fox gives a very credible, poised performance her scenes sit awkwardly alongside those of the Korean actors with whom she does not interact. She shares most of her scenes with fellow guest star: CSI veteran George Eads who portrays an American general. In addition, as observed by Korean critics, her character's dialogue signposts the filmmaker’s moral outrage in a decidedly unsubtle fashion.
Nevertheless viewers looking for sober-minded spectacle offset by the odd affecting moment of pathos could do a lot worse. The Battle of Jangsari is engaging and sincere if prone to cliché. The young soldiers are a cross-section of stock war film types: the cocky guy, the fat guy who is always hungry, the sarcastic but goodhearted Sergeant, the stoic and selfless Captain. One novel if unlikely seeming Mulan-style twist unmasks one of the soldiers as a girl, sent off to war by her family instead of losing their only son. These contrivances aside the film is on surer footing with genuinely moving moments (despite a tendency to score Big Emotional Scenes with accordion music) as when one soldier finds his cousin serving on the North Korean side, underlining how the war tore families apart. Kyung-taek and Tae-hoon do a solid job with the battle sequences which are well-staged and suspenseful with one chaotic trench skirmish especially arresting and brutal.