‘The Front Line’ as a Symbolic Text


   Like any literary text, “The Front Line1 offers a symbolic narrative canvas fraught with cultural and political histories and contradictions. This movie stops at one of the critical moments in the course of South-North Korean military conflict; a final military battle that was intended to “determine the [political] borders between the North and South.”2 However apparent its story may appear, its scenes ironically create some repressed, contradictory and unspeakable images in mind.

This kind of ironies seems like gaps and breaches left by both the scenario-writer and the film-director for the viewer to read off. Given this understanding, the viewer’s task sounds difficult as the film, though long, opens a wide range of possible readings, but also time and space limitations here leave a little room but for packing one’s reading into fewer words. At any rate, this paper would, in turn, offer one reading of those gaps and ironies. Based on such a reading, this piece of writing follows a line of reasoning that is intent on ascertaining the way in which “The Front Line” has succeeded in showing how politics remain “a dirty” game, so to speak.

 One way to unravel some aspects of such “a dirty” game is to make the unspeakable speak by touching upon some deliberately-repressed moments in the course of the film; moments from which this game gets its substance. While the first scene opens with a moment at which a popular demonstration demands for reunification of the two Koreas, the subsequent one images a military debate between the two parties on where to draw a demarcation-line between the two countries.

n like vein, another ‘strange’ scene explains the extent to which politics, in its military practice, sometimes becomes kind of a free-wrestling game.3 Strange it may appear, when the South Koreans took over the Aerok Hill4, some of them buried chocolates and cigarettes. After they had lost and got it back, they discovered that the North Koreans took them and left, in turn, some matches and wine along with letters to be sent to their relatives on the other bank. This game of exchanging things goes on until the declaration of the end of the war. Towards the latter, Kim Su-Hyeok, the protagonist’s friend demands that “our enemy wasn’t commies, but the war was itself.” This declaration deserves no further comment in that it reveals how both troops would see the war in the battlefield as being a space where human relationships develop out of antagonistic moments.

By the end of the film, which is conjunctural with the end of the war, the North Korean captain and KANG – the South Korean protagonist – meet, drink wine and smoke cigarettes together while listening to the official declaration of the end of the war. This scene would open a wide door for different interpretations; one may be that such a scene draws from the dictum that reads thus: “The Enemies of yesterday become friends today” as The Philosophy of Sophocles in King Oedipus5 explains.

Taking it back to where it started, this paper, though focusing only on three scenes, has made an attempt to explain the way in which The Front Line’s scenes can be read as referential mobile networks made of ironies. In trying to examine those ironies, the endeavor was made above to stop at some moments that may escape one’s notice with the aim of digging bit enough in what might lie beyond the scenes.


1 _ “The Front Line” is a South-Korean film, written by Sang-yeon Park and directed by Jang Hun. This film was produced in 2011.

2 – For further details, see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2007387/ , last visit 25th July 2012 at 03 p.m.

3 – For further details on the notion of politics as a dirty game, see Lewis Rothschild’s , The American President, statements,1995.

4 – This is the geographical entity around which the whole battle is taking place between the two Koreas.

5 -Further details are available at: http://www.bookrags.com/essay-2005/3/29/161632/826, last visit July 25th, 2012 at 10 a.m.

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