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Film / 71: Into the Fire

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The seventy-one student soldiers charging into battle against all odds...

71: Into the Fire is a 2010 Korean War film starring Cha Seung-won, Kwon Sang-woo, Choi Seunghyun (T.O.P), and Kim Seung-woo, as members of 71 Korean student soldiers being drafted into war against their will.

Made in commemoration of the heroes who fought during the Korean War, the film is very loosely based on the student-soldiers of South Korea, who gave up their lives during the Battle of P'ohang-dong (August 11, 1950). Against a platoon of North Korean forces, specifically the feared 766th Unit, the 71 underage soldiers defended the P'ohang girls' middle school, a strategic point for safeguarding the struggling Nakdong River perimeter for 11 hours before being finally overwhelmed, but their sacrifices bought enough time for the South Korean and American reinforcements to ambush and take out the North Koreans, ultimately winning the battle.

Much of the film is told from the perspective of Oh Jang-beom (Choi Seung-hyun), a student who have personally witnessed the horrors of war having been through the front lines and is made de-facto leader of the student infantry due to his experiences, and Ku Kap-Joo (Kwong San-woo), a rough delinquent and former gangster who's feared among the students prior to the war.

See also Taegukgi and The Front Line for similar films.

71: Into the Fire contains examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: In between all the action and fighting, there are plenty of drama and character development between the students, and some rather touching moments where the student soldiers thinks of their families back home and reflect on what they have become as killers.
  • Affably Evil: Major Park of the 766th Vanguard. Unlike his superiors and the very out-of-depth political commissar, he shows no small amount of compassion to a captured student soldier so he can offer them a fair chance at surrendering. He even displays a sense of genuine betrayal when the students don't surrender and open fire on his forces, afterwards angrily declaring to his men to leave no survivors.
  • Anyone Can Die: And they do. Considering its based on a true event, its justified. See Dwindling Party.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Jang-beom and Kap-Joo, among the last two surviving members of the 71 student soldiers, who backs up each other and fends off the overwhelming forces of North Koreans in the ending.
  • Band of Brothers: They may not be "actual" soldiers, just student volunteers, but they still count under this trope.
  • Big Damn Heroes
    • Kap-Joo and Chang-wu driving their way towards the school, firing away at North Koreans left and right as they arrive just in time to reinforce the student soldiers.
    • The South Korean and American forces arriving to wipe out what remains of the North Koreans. Unfortunately they are a case of The Cavalry Arrives Late, for by that time both Kap-Joo and Jang-Beom have both succumbed to their injuries defending the motherland.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Well, the students are pretty much Doomed by Canon since the movie is based off true events, but towards the end they still put up their best efforts for the motherland with barely any survivors.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: In the climax, just as the school is about to be overwhelmed by the 766th unit, Kap-Joo and Chang-Woo - which was earlier assumed to have defected to the enemy's side - suddenly comes to the rescue on a hijacked North Korean truck, Chang-wu being the driver, and Kap-Joo manning a heavy machine-gun behind the truck and quickly thinning down the North Korean army by the dozens.
  • Child Soldiers: Subverted with the titular 71 students, whom are teenagers or young adults, but played straight when during one battle scene, Jang-beom and Kap-Joo encounters a North Korean child soldier barely 13 years of age... and Kap-Joo shoots the child without batting an eye.
  • David vs. Goliath: The entire premise of the film is around a small, undertrained team of student soldiers going against a massive North Korean army, complete with tanks.
  • Death of a Child: Kap-Joo guns down a North Korean child soldier.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: Jang-beom and Kap-Joo against the North Koreans, upon realizing they're they only ones left alive in the roof area. Just the two of them on a rooftop littered with North Korean corpses, they kept shooting until they ran out of bullets, and Kap-Joo valiantly tries to attack Major Park with his switchblade despite sustaining multiple injuries.
  • Dwindling Party: As the film goes on, the 71 suffers more and more casualties. In the epilogue its revealed that 48 died defending the school, including Jang-beom and Kap-Joo.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Major Park, despite leading the feared North Korean army, decides to give the student soldiers a chance to surrender by allowing a captured student to return to his friends and warn them of the impending North Korean attack in 2 hours.
  • Fingore: During the first training lessons, Jang-Beom visually demonstrates to the new recruits the painful consequences of not clearing the loading action of the M1 Garand with a pencil. An unamed student accidentally does get his thumb pinched by his Garand bolt during the final siege.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: After going through battles, fighting side-by-side, and surviving day after day of harsh fighting, what remains of the original 71 soldiers are now a tight-knit family.
  • Grenade Hot Potato: One of the hooligans under Kap-jo's group accidentally pulls the pin of a grenade while slacking off. They spend time tossing it to one another before eventually lobbing it away.... onto the unit's food supply.
  • General Ripper: Major Park Mu-rang, commander of the North Korean 766th Unit, a ruthless and brutal commander personally leading the assault.
  • Heroic BSoD: The first platoon of student soldiers posted on night watch duty, including Jang-beom and Kap-Joo, experiencing their first taste of killing after ambushing a group of North Koreans and quickly killing them all... only for the whole group to go My God, What Have I Done?
  • Hold the Line: The entire climax, based on real-life history, where the student soldiers fends of wave after wave of North Koreans.
  • I Miss Mom: After the first night of battle where the student soldiers kills a small platoon of North Koreans, Jang-beom reflects on his mother waiting for him back home in South Korea while trying to sleep.
  • Improvised Weapon: Most of the student's arsenal consists of improvised explosives and modifications to existing weapons such as their Molotov Cocktails, a bamboo chair as a replacement for their M2 Mortar's missing tripod and anti-tank bombs fashioned from grenades taped to kerosene-filled food containers.
  • Mildly Military: Justified. While they are officially part of the ROK with military appointments and ranks, they are still teenagers with next to no proper training and generally behave as well as you'd expect from junior high school kids.
  • Molotov Cocktail: Used by the students during the final stand in the school, where they decide to improvise by using leftover empty glass bottles in the school's kitchen and fuel tanks retrieved from captured North Korean supplies for additional defense options.
  • More Dakka: Jang-beom, Kap-Joo and the rest of the students having access to heavy machine guns, firing them at full auto at incoming North Korean units.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Kap-Joo, while challenging Jang-beom's authority over commanding the students, ends up accidentally triggering an ammunition cache and blowing up their food supply.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: The night after ambushing a North Korean patrol, Jang-beom approaches a mortally-injured North Korean soldier, only to discover the soldier is no more than a youngster in his early-twenties, and is calling for his mother. At which point he realize that despite what the propaganda tells them, the North Koreans are humans too.
  • Offing the Annoyance: When a North Korean political captain tries scolding Major Park for getting a platoon killed, Park responds by filling the commissar with lead.
  • Patriotic Fervor: With the group of student soldiers dwindling and the few remaining members still alive huddled in the P'ohang middle school, Major Park demands that the students simply raise the White Flag and he will consider sparing their lives. The students responds by hoisting the South Korean flag instead.
  • Percussive Maintenance: When their mortar encounters a misfire, they are instructed by their ROK superiors over radio to kick(!) it in order to fix the problem. Unfortunately, their improvised tripod gives way, misaligning the mortar tube and the shell launches straight upwards landing into the school's front gate nearly killing or injuring the students stationed there.
  • The Political Officer: The North Korean officer attached to Major Park who constantly butts heads with Park over all his decisions.
  • Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits: The 71 students, Jang-beom being the only one who had witnessed the hardships of war first-hand.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Fingers on triggers, check. Waving loaded weapons around like toys, check. Playing around with grenades, double check. Then again, the abysmal level of firearms safety is to be expected from a bunch of teenagers with next-to-no military training.
  • Shooting Gallery: Before being shipped to the frontlines, the 71 soldiers gets to bond over each other while going through one of these. Most of them being untrained ends up missing their targets, and Kap-Joo, who prefers knives, decides to throw his switchblade into a target which ends up in the bullseye.
  • Training Montage: Downplayed. Jang-Beom tells his recruits that he had at least fired his rifle 8 times from previous trainings, but the students will only have one chance at it due to limited supplies and the impending enemy forces. It goes as well as you'd expect.
  • Tanks, but No Tanks: The North Korean forces are curiously using an American M4AE8 Sherman tank against the ROK troops and the student soldiers. It is somewhat plausible that they could be using captured enemy equipment against their former owners, but it is more likely that on a meta level, they were standing-in for the more commonly used Russian T-34/85 medium tanks.
  • The Siege: The entire climax revolves around the student soldiers against a seemingly endless wave of North Koreans.
  • Soldier vs. Warrior: With Jang-beom being the soldier, and Kap-Joo being the warrior.
  • Taking You with Me: During the final battle, when a North Korean tank rolls into the school's front, one of the student soldiers ties a bundle of stick grenades to his waist and leaps into the tank's opened hatch, killing himself and taking out the vehicle at the same time.
  • Tank Goodness: The North Korean army assaulting the school comes equipped with several tanks. The students manage to destroy a few before The Cavalry arrives to deal with them, mostly by flinging grenades into the tank's opened hatches.
  • These Hands Have Killed: After experiencing battle for the first time and having their initial taste of killing, most of the student soldiers end up going through this trope.
  • Together in Death: A True Companions example with Jang-beom and Kap-Joo.
  • War Is Hell: Especially if you're a student volunteer unwillingly drafted to the front lines and forced to fight an overwhelming invasion force roughly tenfold compared to your army's size.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: A propaganda poster depicting North Koreans as a savage wild beast shows up in Jang-beom's flashback, after the night where he's forced to Mercy Kill a North Korean soldier who spends the last moments of consciousness begging for his mother. Jang-beom ends up questioning whether the war is worth it and if their actions of killing can be justified.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: The political captain continually gripes to Major Park on the need to return the enemy their prisoner, demanding and waiting for their surrender instead of taking advantage of the situation and curbstomping a vastly inferior foe.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Kap-Joo, who guns down a North Korean Child Soldier despite Jang-beom shouting at him to think before he act.
  • You Are in Command Now: Jang-beom is issued as de-facto leader of the 71 students soldiers because of what he had witnessed as a volunteer militia soldier.
  • Zerg Rush: The standard tactic of the 766th Vanguard troops, which was used to great psychological effect during the urban battle in the opening sequence. In the climax however, despite realizing that the student soldiers have the advantage of position and defense, they decide to try overwhelming the school with sheer numbers, resulting in a considerably higher amount of casualties.