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Film / Inchon

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Inchon is a 1981 film directed by Terence Young about The Korean War, set during the 1950 Battle of Inchon between the U.S., led by General Douglas MacArthur, and the North Koreans.

The plot concerns USMC Major Frank Hallsworth (Ben Gazzara), an American soldier stationed in South Korea, who, along with a Sergeant under his command, Augustus Henderson (Richard Roundtree), gets drawn into the conflict when the North Korean forces invade. Meanwhile, Frank's estranged wife, Barbara (Jacqueline Bisset), is trapped in the combat zone and tries to get to safety, and General MacArthur (Laurence Olivier) settles into his new role as the lead General of the upcoming military operation, while struggling with fears of being too old to handle such an undertaking. Throughout the movie, we also get glimpses of Park (Won Namkung) and Mila (Lydia Lei), a young Korean couple who are about to be married, but get separated by the war. All in all, it is a mixture of action, romance and drama.

The movie was a Propaganda Piece funded almost entirely by Rev. Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church. Its followers being known as "Moonies," they are one of the largest and most famous cults in the western world, right behind Scientology. Moon was one of the richest men in the world, owned The Washington Times, claimed to be the messiah, and was famous for his mass weddings, in which devotees were led into a room where the Rev. Moon randomly paired up people. His son, named Kook Moon, more often known as Justin, also owns a pistol manufacturer.

Why make a movie about the battle of Inchon? Well, it was apparently a choice between this or making a movie about Jesus or Elvis Presley. That is not a joke. Then a fortune teller claimed that she spoke to MacArthur, who gave Moon the personal go-ahead for Inchon. Moon wanted to show a pivotal moment in Korean history as well as portray MacArthur as a deeply spiritual man. The end goal of Inchon was to be the start of a series of ten or so movies about the Bible.

Following a long and very difficult production, the film only had a limited theatrical release, getting pulled from theaters quickly because of poor box office returns. Laurence Olivier in an interview declared that the only reason he took part of this picture is "Money, Dear Boy", which became a Trope Namer for this wiki. Moon wanted to keep his involvement a secret since the Unification Church is perceived as a cult, so all of the actors and crew were paid in cash, including Olivier, who was paid $1.25 million, plus overtime, in deposits of several briefcases. It has never been released on home video, and is only available in VHS recordings ripped from the Unification Church's former TV network, the GoodLife Network (now YTA TV).

Inchon provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Name Change: Ben Gazzara's character, Frank Hallsworth, is vaguely based on a real-life American serviceman who was part of the lighthouse raid, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Eugene F. Clark; because the film version of the character is depicted as having an affair, Clark wouldn't sign a release to allow the film to use him in the story.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: In the scene depicting the Hangang bridge bombing, the North Korean troops are firing at the bridge with tanks to kill civilians; in real life, the North Korean forces hadn't even gotten to the bridge when it was blown up. If they are intent on actually seizing control of the bridge for their own use, why are they hitting it with tank shots?
  • America Saves the Day: Even though the movie shows soldiers of other nationalities being part of the effort against North Korea (and the film proudly notes that over 20 countries were involved in the war), the Americans, MacArthur in particular, are firmly placed in the foreground and do pretty much everything of actual consequence.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • At the time of the war, Kim Il-Sung was about 40 and definitively more younger-looking than the official portraits in the film.
    • One scene features a shot of a digital watch, which wasn't even invented until 25 years after the film takes place.
    • Take a shot everytime you see someone dressing in more modern outfits, despite the film taking place in 1950. Justified for the North Koreans, who still dress like that even after this film was made!
  • Artistic License History: Admitted in the opening disclaimer:
    • For one thing, there was indeed a lighthouse raid performed during the real operation, but it wasn't as vital to its success as the film portrays it.
    • The film's depiction of the Hangang Bridge bombing. In real life, the bridge was blown up at 2:30am, and the hundreds of civilian casualties were the result of the South Korean military demolishing the bridge to stop the North Koreans from taking it without evacuating the bridge first, killing somewhere between 500 and 1000 civilians and accidentally cutting off the retreat path for one of their own divisions - despite the North Koreans still being six to eight hours away. Apparently, the one who gave the order was the South Korean army's chief of staff, General Chae Pyong-duk, who did so as soon as he himself had crossed it, while a scapegoat, Colonel Choi Chang-sik, was officially blamed and executed, despite following the orders of superior officers. In the movie, the demolition happens in broad daylight, and the bridge is being overrun by North Korean troops when the explosives are detonated, portraying the decision to blow it up with civilians still on it as a painful, but necessary sacrifice.
    • The film's description of the death of Douglas MacArthur's father, Arthur MacArthur, gets a stunning number of details wrong. According to the film, MacArthur was known as "the Boy General" and was attending a reunion of his Civil War regiment at the Smithsonian Institution when he suffered a fatal stroke; his comrades sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" before wrapping him in a flag he had planted on a hilltop at Cemetery Ridge and carrying him to Arlington National Cemetery. In reality, he was known as "the Boy Colonel",note  his flag-planting happened at the battle of Missionary Ridge,note  the reunion of his regiment (the 24th Wisconsin Infantry) happened in Milwaukee, and he left specific instructions that he was not to be buried in Arlington but in Milwaukee, a request that was honoured until his body was moved to Arlington fourteen years later. Whether or not MacArthur's fellow veterans sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as he died can only be guessed.
  • Artistic License Military: Throughout the movie, Frank, a U.S. Marine, is in contact with MacArthur, a General in the U.S. Army, and served under him prior to the events of the movie. Even though MacArthur was in charge of the operation as a whole, Frank would be expected to get his orders from another Marine higher in the chain of command. In a conversation between Frank and Henderson, it's simply explained as him having a "token Marine".
  • Author Tract: This film is a thinly disguised propaganda vehicle for Rev. Moon's ideology.
  • Bus Full of Innocents: While fleeing away from the combat, Barbara gets roped into transporting a group of orphaned Korean children by their grandfather.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: A pretty glaring one early in the film, when Hallsworth and Henderson have a rather leisurely stroll to their truck while a battle between the North Korean forces and the ROK rages in the background.
  • Conscription: The North Koreans are shown forcing some South Korean prisoners, including the groom in the couple to be wed, to "volunteer" for the Red Army.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: MacArthur's justification for why the invasion of the Inchon harbor will work: because it's such a difficult operation that nobody will expect it.
  • Cult Soundtrack: Despite the actual film being a notorious flop, Jerry Goldsmith's score was popular enough to have been continuously in print for years.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Frank's mistress, Lim, is killed while assisting in the raid on the lighthouse.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Park. After having been forcibly drafted into the North Korean forces, he seizes an opportunity when his unit is ambushed by a South Korean guerrilla to kill the commissar who forced him to join when he is injured and unable to move.
  • First-Name Basis: MacArthur tends to address people working under him by their first names, including his current secretary, Lieutenant Haig, and Frank, who used to fill the same position for him.
  • Happily Married: MacArthur and his wife.
  • Kick the Dog: North Koreans are shown killing Southern civilians gratuitously and demolishing their homes.
  • Mr. Exposition: The team of journalists that appears throughout the movie is really just there to tell the backstory of General MacArthur.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Despite being rather hard-charging around other generals, MacArthur is quite pleasant to civilians and those serving under him, including Frank, whom he still addresses by his first name, and his assistant.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Olivier's attempt at an American accent sounds rather like a bad W. C. Fields impression. This is especially apparent in the final scene when the film segues into footage of the real Gen. MacArthur.
  • Parental Substitute: Barbara becomes a temporary mom to the Korean children she escorts away from the war.
  • Plot Armor: Barbara and the schoolgirls to a near-absurd extent. Despite being in a large heavy station wagon on Hangang Bridge when it was blown to smithereens, the car not only survives with not even a scratch but just so happened to be on what precious little was left of the bridge with not even a single crack in the windows, despite the fact that their proximity to the blast would've, at the very least, completely obliterated every single window in the vehicle. On top of all that, the wagon almost rolls backwards off the bridge and into the water but several South Korean soldiers are there to help pull the wagon and the girls to safety.
  • Precision F-Strike: MacArthur's first scene has one (that's unfortunately blanked out in the GoodLife TV airing):
    MacArthur: I warned Washington. I knew it, I knew it. What do you expect from politicians? Bull-shit.
  • Pre-Climax Climax: Frank and Barbara, the night before Frank takes part in the lighthouse raid.
  • Red Scare: The North Koreans are made to be as evil and repressive as possible
  • Retired Badass: Lim's father, a veteran of World War II.
  • Saintly Church: The St. Mary's Mission that takes in Barbara, the Korean children and Mila and gives the group shelter and the children a school education.
  • Skewed Priorities: Played for a quick joke in MacArthur's first scene. His assistant starts briefing him on the ongoing conflict and messages from the President, but MacArthur first asks for "the real news": the score of a baseball game between the Army and Penn State.
  • So Much for Stealth: The nighttime raid turns into a full-on firefight when Frank and the others are exposed.
  • Storming the Beaches: The climax of the movie depicts the storming of Wolmido, a beach near Inchon.
  • Tanks, but No Tanks: The North Korean tanks are obviously American M47snote  with Korean flags on top.
  • The Cameo: Omar Sharif pops up as Indian Army Colonel A.G. Rangaraj.
  • Token Minority: Sgt. Henderson (played by Richard Roundtree) is the only non-white American main character.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: The interactions between the American forces and the South Korean locals and military have undertones of this. In the beginning of the movie, they are portrayed as hopelessly inexperienced and underequipped. Later, Frank is seen leading a group of South Korean guerrilla forces as they attack a North Korean convoy.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Barbara throughout most of the first half of the film. Stands out particularly in a scene when she arrives at a United Nations military camp and stops to fix her makeup when a journalist tries to take a photo of her.
  • Uptown Girl: Barbara and Frank, in the past. She is said to have come from an upper-class family, Frank is a career Marine; he later blames this on the decay of their marriage.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The events portrayed in the film are only superficially adapted from history.
  • We Only Have One Chance: MacArthur argues for the expedient date of the invasion of Inchon because the only oppurtunity they have to enter the bay is a tide that lasts an hour.