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Film / The Front Line

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The Last Battle of the Korean War

"Look, dumbasses. Do you know why you're losing? Do you know why you keep running? Let me tell you why: That's because you don't know why you're fighting."

The Front Line is a 2011 Korean produced war drama about the closing days of the The Korean War. In mid 1950, South Korean soldiers, Kang Eun-Pyo and Kim Soo-Hyeok find themselves cornered by the relentless North Korean invasion. They both survive a meeting with a North Korean captain who spares their lives for the bigger picture; the pressing need for manpower post-war, where he claims the war would be over in a week.

Fast forward to 1953 where the war slowly draws to a close, as politicians and generals endlessly bicker over territorial claims and armistice conditions. The now-First Lieutenant Kang; a Counterintelligence Corps officer is sent to the eastern front of Aerok Hill to investigate an alleged murder of a South Korean officer and a possible mole within the famed Alligator Company. He is soon reunited with his old friend Soo-Hyeok, now a First Lieutenant in charge of an infantry platoon and meets several veterans with colourful personalities, despite the bleak war. He quickly finds himself in an endless battle for the hill with his new squad and not long after stumbles upon a secret that brings himself closer to the enemy than he would ever thought possible.....


This movie was South Korea's submission to the year's 84th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, but ultimately did not make the final nominations. One of the most unflinching portrayals of the Korean War next to the similarly themed Taegukgi: Brotherhood of War (2004), it has won several local film awards as well as critical acclaim overseas.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene:
    • Whenever a side takes the hill, there will be a moment of pause where men on both sides rest and collect their thoughts before the other side comes knocking and inevitably retake the hill, repeating the process over and over again.
    • After the final battle, when the shell shocked Eun-pyo and the fatally-wounded North Korean commander sit down in their bunker sharing one last drink and smoke.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: In the ending, both Eun-Pyo and Jeong-Yoon laugh hysterically when a nearby radio crackles to life announcing the official ceasefire and stand-down orders.
  • Advertisement:
  • Affably Evil: Captain Jeong-Yoon and Soo-Hyeok
  • Alas, Poor Villain: The North Korean captain, "Two Seconds" and Soo-Hyeok.
  • Anti-Hero: Soo-Hyeok
  • An Arm and a Leg: Soldiers on both sides are frequently and graphically seen losing appendages to various grenades and explosive munitions.
  • Anti-Villain: Captain Jeong-Yoon is a Dirty Communist while Soo-Hyeok has devolved into He Who Fights Monsters, but both are soldiers who are fighting desperately just to win as duties as soldiers despite the war futilely coming to a close in a week.
  • Armies Are Evil: Due to the War Is Hell theme, both sides of the conflict have most of their souls rotted to the core by this battle.
  • Asshole Victim: Captain Jae-oh and Soo-Hyeok
  • Atop a Mountain of Corpses: Aerok Hill becomes a literal version, as the final shot reveals the entire hilltop covered in the bodies of both North and South Korean soldiers.
  • Battle in the Rain: The final North Korean offensive for the hill dramatically becomes this right before the Chinese troops enter the AO.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Whatever off-screen War Is Hell experiences Soo-Hyeok endured between the beginning of the war and the end of it have clearly corrupted him at the time of the film's main conflict and made him into the secondary antagonist.
  • Berserk Button: Any mentions of Pohang is this for the entire company. Even the psychologically-unstable Lee Sang-Eok whose mind is virtually stuck in Pohang isn't spared from this. Although it is for good reasons: many of their comrades were forcibly killed by friendly fire and that Sang-Eok is the only survivor of the gunned down squad. The war orphan's question if humans can grow their limbs back was enough to set off Soo-Hyeok into a tirade towards her due to his Irrational Hatred of children.
  • Big Bad: The North Korean Captain is portrayed as this to the South Koreans and the protagonist, who has a personal history with the man.
    • Bigger Bad: Although by extension, Kim Il-Sung, whose hand can be seen signing the armistice treaty.
    • Big Bad Ensemble: However, Soo-Hyeok can qualify as this towards Eun-Pyo too until his death, as his reckless determination to win battle only worsens the main conflict for his friend and the lives of his men and the fact his murder of a South Korean officer is what led Eun-Pyo to investigate his unit in the first place that began the conflict.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Captain Young-Il and his platoon gives one to the main characters when they find themselves surrounded by elements of the Chinese Volunteer Army.
  • Broken Bird: "Two Seconds".
  • Broken Pedestal: Eun-Pyo is increasingly appalled by what his ex-friend Soo-Hyeok has become.
  • Black Comedy: After all the tragedy and death of the final battle, the last two survivors can't help but laugh at the sheer ironic timing of the radio officially enforcing the ceasefire.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The apparent fate of the previous commander as well as the replacement one.
  • Break the Cutie: Private Nam Seong-Shik quickly experiences the horrors of war on his first battle, crying pathetically while being shelled and then forced to kill an injured enemy, who looks even younger than himself.
  • Bullying the Disabled: Soo-Hyeok's "The Reason You Suck" Speech towards a war orphan amputee.
  • Child Hater: Soo-Hyeok has become this toward the war orphans, seemingly partially blaming taking care of them as one of the disadvantages of winning the battle, mocking one for the loss of her arm and sending them off altogether not just for their safety, but likely out of this and the fact children are what are holding his unit back from winning their battle.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The various items that both sides share with one another often show up again with more important consequences.
    • Several South Korean soldiers are seen wearing North Korean jackets for cold protection. Later the same uniforms are used to infiltrate their lines and conduct ambushes.
    • A pair of German bike goggles are passed around, before Soo-Hyeok gives it to Pvt. Nam. When "Two Seconds" spots the goggles next to the young recruit she had shot earlier, her Cold Sniper persona is seen shaken for the first time.
    • Soo-Hyeok is sometimes seen handling a sniper's telescopic sight, using them to observe targets or to call in artillery strikes. It is actually the scope for his M1-D Garand and is last seen attached to his rifle during his final encounter with "Two Seconds".
  • Cold Sniper: A North Korean sniper is nicknamed by the ROK troops as "Two Seconds". As the war rages on, her facade slowly breaks down until she is actually seen crying while singing 'Night At the Front Line' with everyone right before the climactic battle.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: While its a Kick the Dog move, Soo-Hyeok in a foul mood was just expressing his Brutal Honesty towards a war orphan with no arm that humans cannot grow their limbs back.
  • Dark Action Girl: "Two Seconds".
  • Downer Ending: No one save for Eun-Pyo is left alive when the climactic battle is over and the ceasefire officially comes into effect.
  • Death Seeker: Captain Il-Young is one, who is still torn over past events. He even forces a crazed Sang-Eok's rifle to his heart during the latter's Freak Out, although he survives the incident despite taking a bullet to the shoulder.
  • Death Wail: Eun-Pyo gives one for Soo-Hyeok after the latter is killed by "Two Seconds".
  • The Dreaded: "Two Seconds", a North Korean sniper responsible for the deaths of over 30 South Korean troops and officers during the whole battle for the hill.
  • Die Laughing: Captain Jeong-Yoon
  • Dressing as the Enemy: In the beginning, the replacement captain almost arrests a friendly soldier who was wearing a salvaged North Korean jacket solely for protection against the cold.
    • Later during a mission to recapture their lost anti-aircraft guns, Soo-Hyeok dons a North Korean uniform to safely approach the enemy occupants. The North Koreans are immediately suspicious and apprehend him but most of them are immediately cut down by the ambushing South Korean troops waiting on the overlooking ridge.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After Lt. Kang's first battle on the hill, he finds the the newbie hiccuping from drunkenness, who tells him that Sgt. Yang gave him booze so he can forget the horrible things he saw. Since alcohol wasn't distributed amongst the troops, he investigates the source of the booze and stumbles onto the group huddling over their stash of enemy contraband.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Eun-Pyo is un-exaggeratedly the only human being left alive on Aerok Hill after the final battle.
  • Evil Former Friend. Soo-Hyeok becomes this for Eun-Pyo, having to Took a Level in Jerkass and act as part of the Big Bad Ensemble with the North Korean captain.
  • Evil vs. Evil: The corrupt South Koreans fighting against the Dirty Communist North Koreans.
  • Fallen Hero: Soo-Hyeok
  • Fatal Family Photo: Joon-Yeol frequently looks at one such photo, but it is subverted when he looks at it one more time after the ceasefire is announced, relieved at the chance to see them one again. Then cruelly Double Subverted when the fighting restarts not long after and he is actually killed in the final battle.
  • A Father to His Men: Both 1st Lt. Soo-Hyeok and Captain Il-Young qualify as they both put the safety of their men as their priority, being to do anything to help them survive till the ceasefire. For Soo-Hyeok, however, emphasis on his men, especially since he clashes with anyone outside of Alligator Company, like the poor war orphan amputee, Captain Jae-oh and even his friend Eun-Pyo when he calls him out for his questionable actions, while being more considerate only towards his troops under his command.
  • Feel No Pain: Despite being shot once, Il-Young doesn't show any signs of pain due to the fact that is perpetually on a morphine high so he can forget both the physical and mental stresses of war. After Soo-Hyeok's death, he attempts to inject himself once more before being stopped by Eun-Pyo, who tells him that it's okay to cry. Free of the painkillers, Captain Shin finally breaks down and cries his heart out for the death of a friend after a long time.
  • Field Promotion: Eun-Pyo is impressed with Soo-Hyeok's swift progression from a timid bespectacled private to a First Lieutenant commanding a platoon, but Kim admits that promotions tend to happen easily when too many officers keep dying on the battlefield.
  • Freak Out: The insane soldier has another psychotic episode where he threatens his fellow troops with a loaded rifle demanding to know where he and his brothers-in-arms are, forcing the company to reveal their past of Pohang.
  • Friendly Enemy: Soo-Hyeok, Young-Il, and a few other soldiers enjoys the contents of a secret communication box buried within the hills in a cave that acts as a mail system and gift exchange from one side to the other. It had originally been used to trade insults between the sides, but evolved into exchanging letters and presents. The North Koreans would usually leave rice wine, and the South Koreans would leave American made cigarettes and chocolate; occasionally there would also be some personal effects in those boxes that the two sides would share, and sometimes letters as well.
  • Functional Addict: Captain Young-Il is constantly hopped up on small doses of morphine as seen during his introduction but performs his combat duties seemingly unimpeded (if actually, better) by his addiction. His dependence on morphine is fueled by the need to numb both the physical and the mental pain of the ongoing war, as well as being wracked with grief over past events.
  • Gender-Blender Name: The squad assumes that a North Korean letter written by a 'Cha Tae-Kyeong' is mailing to his family, who attaches a family photo containing a picture of a young lady, whom they think it's his sister. Tae-Kyeong is actually the name of a female soldier, otherwise known to the South Koreans troops as "Two Seconds".
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: The new recruit becomes one when he sings a new song, Night At The Front Line to the old veterans of Alligator Company. He even shares the lyrics with the entire company as well as their North Korean correspondents.
  • A Glass in the Hand: During the ceasefire negotiations, a haughty North Korean General re-draws the territorial lines over the UN claim, breaking the lead of the pencil at the end with a smug.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Captain Jeong-Yoon
  • Good Guns, Bad Guns: The South Koreans use US-made WWII issue weapons like the M1 Garand and the M1 Carbine while the North Koreans use Soviet-made surplus like Mosin Nagants and PPSh-41 submachine guns. Averted, when Soo-Hyeok picks up a PPSh when Dressing as the Enemy and uses it.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: North Korean Captain Jeong-Yoon sports several burn marks and scars after the two years timeskip into the Korean War.
  • Go Ye Heroes, Go and Die: Both North and South Korean commanders give a Rousing Speech to each of their men for the final climatic battle for Aerok Hill, twelve hours before the ceasefire can take place.
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality: This movies pulls no punches in portraying the brutality of the Korean War and the pointless battles being fought by the soldiers on both sides on the titular front line.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: After killing the bespectacled North Korean soldier, Joon-Yeol is bisected by a friendly airstrike complete with Gory Discretion Shot.
  • Hate Sink: Downplayed with Soo-Hyeok. While he primarily serves as the secondary antagonist the audience can hate (since the North Koreans and Captain Jae-oh has less screen time than Alligator Company and the film doesn't showcase enough actions for the audience to despised them), he does care for his men... but not enough to overcome his bloodlust to win the battle even when it comes to being a cynical Smug Snake, committing war crimes or Bullying the Disabled towards a war orphan amputee.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Soo-Hyeok has become as bad as the North Koreans. Despite understandable circumstances for his questionable actions, he comes across as worse than the KPA ever were.
  • Here We Go Again!: Eun-Pyo's superior says this word for word when the ceasefire negotiations gets stalled by the confusion over whichever side actually has K-Hill at the moment.
  • Heroic BSoD
  • Historical Domain Character: The signatures of Kim Il-Sungnote  and General Mark Wayne Clarknote  make an appearance during the signing of the ceasefire.
  • Hope Spot: After the ceasefire is announced to the frontline troops, both sides break out in celebration and even get to say their goodbyes to their enemies one last time. Their respective leaderships arrive to formally announce that the ceasefire will only take effect on a later time, ordering them to spend the last twelve hours of war to fight for the last scraps of land they can conquer.
  • Hopeless War: The battle for Aerok Hill is portrayed as one, where both sides fight for a meaningless hilltop while waiting for a ceasefire that hasn't come for the past two years when it was first announced. The characters in both factions get increasingly annoyed and jaded of fighting with the end nowhere in sight.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: You Did What You Had To Do: After the events at Pohang, Soo-Hyeok manages to convince this trope to a suicidal Young-Il that his actions was justified and essential to the platoon's survival. Soo-Hyeok himself believes in this in regards to the war crimes he commits.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Soo-Hyeok pulls one when disguised as a North Korean trooper to buy time for his own riflemen to line up their volley.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While it wasn't necessary to give a "The Reason You Suck" Speech at a child amputee just asking a question, Soo-Hyeok was correct that humans cannot grow their limbs back. Also, Soo-Hyeok had committed war crimes, but it was to ensure the survival of his men and the find an advantage to win their battle against the North Koreans.
  • Just a Flesh Wound: Captain Shin gets shot in the shoulder by an insane Sang-Eok, but manages to shrug it off for the rest of the movie. Justified due to his morphine addiction.
  • Karmic Death: Soo-Hyeok is killed by the sniper whom he sacrificed Seong-Shik to as bait to kill her earlier.
  • Kick the Dog: After Seong-Shik's death, a disenchanted and moody Soo-Hyeok, after getting his Berserk Button pressed, lashes out on one of the war orphans in a blind rage reflex likely out of blaming babysitting them for making them lose the battle they are in that resulted in their latest tragedy when she innocently asks if her missing arm will grow back. He brutally mocks her by telling her that she isn't a lizard and that she will only grow up to be a armless freak, reducing the poor child to a bawling and denying mess. Eun-Pyo was not amused at all. Also, earlier Soo-Hyeok was the one responsible for Seong-Shik's death, as he used the poor dying guy as bait to kill the sniper who shot him and when being confronted over it, he refuses to take responsibility and instead blames the war orphans to take it out on them. It's unknown afterwards if Soo-Hyeok had the said war orphan amputee and the other children evacuated from the camp for their safety as they prepare for battle as a way to make up to her for what he said earlier or just out of hatred of children.
  • Laughing Mad: Both Eun-Pyo and Jung-Yoon laugh hysterically upon hearing the broadcast announcing the ceasefire, right after countless lives were lost in the pointless final battle. Jung-Yoon actually dies from his wounds immediately after.
  • Leave No Survivors: Soo-Hyeok killed surrendering North Koreans out of pragmatism.
  • Mercy Kill: Upon seeing the German goggles on her injured quarry, Tae-Kyeong (a.k.a "Two Seconds") puts Seong-Shik out of his misery realising she had just shot one of her enemy correspondents; the young kid who shared the lyrics of an uplifting wartime song with her comrades.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: A murder of a South Korean captain on the front line under mysterious circumstances and enemy letters intercepted by the ROK MPs brings forward the possibility of a North Korean mole within the ranks of Alligator Company.
    • Played with, as the letters were written by North Koreans, but due to the friendly exchanges between both sides, the letters sent out were genuinely meant for their families living in the South.
    • Subverted for the Captain's death, as Lt. Soo-Hyeok claims that the officer in question was seen deserting his post and committing suicide but reported as KIA to avoid trouble, so there was never a mole involved. Then Double Subverted as Soo-Hyeok is actually directly responsible for the captain's death.
  • Meaningful Name
    • Alligator Company is named for their staggeringly low survival rates, similar to that of baby alligators born in an unforgiving swamp.
    • The North Korean sniper, "Two Seconds" is named after the amount of time it takes for the soldiers to hear the bullet after somebody gets shot. This actually reveals the distance in which the sniper usually engages the South Koreans from (around 680 metres).
  • Mexican Standoff: A few instances happen in the movie.
    • A shell-shocked Pvt. Nam encounters an injured North Korean soldier and both of them point their rifles at each other for some time, both too frightened to fire on one another. Then MSgt. Yang arrival prompts the recruit to shoot first before the North Korean soldier could turn his rifle on Hyo-Sam.
    • The second one happened in a bunker between Lt. Kang and MSgt. Yang when Eun-Pyo suspects the group of being involved with North Korean espionage. Notably MSgt. Yang instigated the standoff, feeling threatened by the prospect of a CIC officer reporting them for the misunderstanding.
    • The third one happens after news of ceasefire, when the relaxed South Korean troops bump into their North Korean compatriots on the river while bathing. Both sides raise their weapons in a tense moment before both surviving leaders exchange their last gifts to one another, then afterwards both sides leave one another in peace, even shouting good byes and complimenting each other's fighting spirit.
  • Moment Killer: Both sides sigh in relief when their respective high commands read out the terms of the ceasefire, only to be told that they still have 12 hours left to fight for one last desperate land-grab for the hill.
  • Mood Whiplash: After the ceasefire is announced, both sides cheer and celebrate the end of the war and their survival until Eun-Pyo stumbles back into camp carrying the recently-deceased Soo-Hyeok over his shoulders shocking everyone, then the mood becomes somber as they begin mourning for their fallen commander.
  • The Neidermeyer: Captain Jae-oh, the replacement commander fares no better than his predecessor, by not listening to valuable advice of the more experienced men, threatening surbodinates at gunpoint for not listening to orders and making terrible tactical decisions as a result. He freezes up during the South's final defense of Aerok Hill and finally crosses the line when he chooses to hold the line as ordered to by the higher ups, essentially ordering his men to their deaths. It's no wonder he ends up with the exact same fate as the previous captain. Soo-Hyeok who killed Jae-oh isn't any better neither as he did sacrificed Private Nam Seong-Shik in an attempt to kill "Two Seconds" in an artillery strike, but at least he does cares for his comrades which was the reason why he killed Jae-oh and the other previous officer.
  • Never My Fault: Eun-Pyo calls Soo-Hyeok out for leaving Seong-Shik to die, but he does not take responsibility and instead shift blame to the war orphans for their troubles if his sight of the little girl amputee being his Berserk Button that prompts him to unleashed "The Reason You Suck" Speech against her is any indication.
  • New Meat: The new recruit, the 17-year old Private Nam Seong-Shik starts off completely naive and idealistic. This attitude grows out fast.
  • Nicknaming the Enemy: As for Truth in Television in the Korean War, the North Koreans are referred to as 'Commies' or 'Reds', while the Chinese are called 'Chinks'. The North Korean sniper is also given the name of "Two Seconds".
  • Nominal Hero: Soo-Hyeok
  • Noodle Incident: No one in Alligator Company likes to bring this up, but we do eventually find out. It was not pretty.
  • Not So Different: The movie takes this to insane levels. Both sides feature events or people that mirrors one another, perfectly showing how both sides are tired and jaded with the war itself.
    • Both armies have a resident Neidermeyer commanding men to useless offensives on the hill, much to their men's exasperation.
    • Both sides feature a select group of seasoned soldiers delivering gifts and letters to their enemy in secret.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: Interestingly most of the war crimes seen in the movie are performed by the South Koreans, while the North Koreans are given some sympathetic treatment.
    • Soo-Hyeok dons an enemy uniform to infiltrate and eliminate North Korean forces occupying an AA position. While he did go in unarmed and did not perform any hostile act, he falsely surrenders by signaling his men to take their shots. He later executes the surviving enemy troops as part of a Leave No Survivors stance the company took regarding their enemy.
    • Soo-Hyeok is responsible for the abrupt executions of both commanding officers due to their general incompetence and writes them off as KIA to cover them up.
  • Old Soldier: Master Sergeant Yang Hyo-Sam is one of the eldest soldiers in Alligator Company, having fought against the Japanese in Manchuria while serving under the Korean Liberation Army.
  • Only Sane Man: Eun-Pyo
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Even Master Sergeant Yang frowns on anyone mentioning Pohang. The tense standoff started by him in the bunker counts as well.
  • The Political Officer: The protagonist, First Lieutenant Kang Eun-Pyo is a South Korean version of this, being a member of the Counterintelligence Corps sent to find a possible mole within Alligator Company.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Overlapping with Politically Incorrect Hero, secondary antagonist Soo-Hyeok nastily unleashed an ableist slur towards a war orphan amputee by calling her an armless freak for asking what he perceives as a stupid question if humans can grow their limbs back.
  • The Pollyanna: Master Sergeant Yang Hyo-Sam maintains a cheery disposition, comforting the recruit for his first kill, cracking jokes and telling stories of past glories to the men, even constantly smiling throughout heated firefights. He even keeps on smiling and once again tries to tell his old stories as he dies sheltering Joon-yeol from Chinese bullets.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Both Captain Il-Young and Lt. Kim (with the exception of him being a Child Hater other than evacuating them for their safety later on) are portrayed as this, in contrast to their commanding officers who just blindly follow orders and ignore the advice of experienced personnel.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Captain Jeong-Yoon gives one to Eun-Pyo and his captured comrades in the prologue. Years later, Soo-Hyeok expresses a desire to find and ask the officer the same question in return. Soo-Hyeok also gives this one to a war orphan amputee, calling her an armless freak in conclusion.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Eun-Pyo's investigation into Aerok Hill is actually this, due to his vocal objections to the South Korean government's purges earlier on in the beginning.
  • Resentful Guardian: Lt. Kim is this towards the war orphans, blaming them for their disadvantage in winning their battle as shown when he relentlessly talks down an amputee following Private Nam Seong-Shik's death.
  • Scenery Gorn: At one point, a timelapse of the hill is shown, with the body count as well as the damage gradually increasing as the hill continues to exchange sides past winter and spilling into spring.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: The men of Alligator Company bitterly view their losses towards the end of the war as this, as the politicians constantly delay the peace talks to buy time for their troops to control useless areas of land just to get territorial superiority.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Almost all main characters are or slowly become one due to the ongoing war with each experiencing various states of mind.
    • One manifests as a mentally unstable soldier who still thinks he's at Pohang and often looks for his now-dead comrades. He frequently switches from a delusional old man to a paranoid screaming mess at times, but the company is used to this and tries to hide this from the higher ups to prevent him from being dishonorably discharged.
    • Captain Il-Young becomes a morphine addict to forget past events and ignore the pain.
    • Eun-Pyo becomes one at the end as he walks around the devastated hill, alone.
  • Smug Snake: Soo-Hyeok show some signs of being this when revealing his smirking cynicism.
  • Sniper Duel: "Two Seconds" and Soo-Hyeok engages one another in a brief duel after the final North Korean offensive. Soo-Hyeok loses.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Soo-Hyeok show borderline signs of this even though he is A Father to His Men as he killed surrendering enemy soldiers and sacrificed a New Meat private to kill "Two Seconds" while refusing to take responsibility for it and shifts the blame onto the war orphans, while "Two Seconds" subverts this (see Cold Sniper above for further explanation) despite being mostly The Stoic seemingly with Lack of Empathy during her missions.
  • Sole Survivor: The insane soldier is known by the men as the only member of Platoon 2 from past events.
    • Eun-Pyo becomes one for the entire front line for both sides at the end.
  • South Koreans with Marines: Most of the main cast.
  • Stepford Smiler: The insane Sang-Eok sports one of these most of the time due to his devastated mind's inability to recall the traumatic events of Pohang.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Soo-Hyeok did in fact killed two officers, but only because they were needlessly risking lives of their men.
  • That Man Is Dead: Dying of his wounds and suffering a Heroic BSoD Villainous Breakdown in an Alas, Poor Villain moment, Soo-Hyeok muses to himself and Eun-Pyo that everyone fighting on the hill were no longer the people they used to be before the war. Even "Two Seconds".
  • Tempting Fate: In the prologue taking place in 1950, the North Korean Captain Jung-yoon spares the lives of several captured ROK troops claiming that the war will be over in a week where they will need all the men to help rebuild the nation. Slow transition to the next scene taking place in 1953....
  • To Absent Friends: During the replacement commander's Captain Jae-ho welcome party, Soo-Hyeok passes a toast meant for him to their fallen comrades instead of himself first.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Soo-Hyeok is a far cry from the bespectacled, scared reluctant soldier when Eun-Pyo sees him again after two years. However this has also made him...
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: ... Where Kim has also become more jaded, cynical and amoral as his war experiences takes a toll on his morals.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Both sides have it bad.
  • Trial by Friendly Fire: During a flashback to the events of the Pohang retreat, a panicked (then-) Private Il-Young mans a machine gun to kill the desperate ROK troops attempting to swarm their overcrowded landing craft, saving the troops within the boat from being killed by the angry, scared mob.
  • Unfriendly Fire: The plot kicks off with the alleged fragging of an officer, which may point to a possible mole within the South Korean ranks. The officer, and eventually his replacement were indeed killed by the same man, but only for their sheer incompetence; there was never a mole involved.
  • Villain Protagonist: Soo-Hyeok is technically an Anti-Hero Deuteragonist to Eun-Pyo's Hero Protagonist, but he is also considered the secondary antagonist after he Took a Level in Jerkass and considered a war criminal for killing two commanding officers.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Both "Two Seconds" and Soo-Hyeok both suffered this shortly just before their deaths.
  • War Is Hell: The Korean War Edition.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Eun-Pyo gets appalled throughout the movie at the increasingly immoral behaviour of his old friend Soo-Hyeok and frequently gives one to him sometimes with his sidearm pointed at his head.
  • We Have Reserves: The North Korean troops seem to embrace this trope regarding their Chinese allies, by sending them first to soak the South Korean ammunition reserves, before advancing forward and claiming the hill for themselves.
    • The South Korean high command isn't any better, callously commanding their forces to defend the hill at all costs, disregarding the advice of the troops on the ground.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Soo-Hyeok, when he resorts to amoral means and committing war crimes to win the war.
  • Worthy Opponent: Both sides view each other as this after the river standoff.
  • You Are in Command Now: After the death of the previous commander, Captain Il-Young became the acting commander of Alligator Company before the arrival of Lt. Kang, Pvt. Nam and replacement Cpt. Yoo. Later during the final North Korean offensive Lt. Kim invokes this to himself when Cpt. Shin is presumed dead and Cpt. Yoo is wracked with indecsiveness, by shooting Jae-Ho in the head. Eun-Pyo points his sidearm at Soo-Hyeok's head, who just blithely responds that if he shoots him, Lt. Kang himself will be next in line for leadership and asks if he could lead the men out on his own.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: Soo-Hyeok feels this way towards the war orphans, especially following Seong-Shik's death, likely blaming babysitting them as one of the factors for their platoon's latest casualties and thinking his men would have a better chance at survival if the war orphans were already dead before they took them in, so it would save them the trouble of taking care of them over winning their battle and making sure nobody dies.
  • Zerg Rush: The Chinese volunteers are seen employing basic human wave tactics during the final North Korean offensive to retake Aerok Hill.


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