"Northern Limit Line" recounts the second battle of Yeonpyeong, when a North Korean patrol boat in June 2002 crossed the maritime demarcation line in the Yellow Sea and engaged its South Korean counterpart while that nation was preoccupied with the World Cup.
For American viewers unfamiliar with the incident, watching the film by Kim Hak-soon is like being an uninvited guest at a national memorial service. Explaining the geopolitical and historical context only through intertitles, the film uses expository scenes to illustrate the sailors' camaraderie and family lives in a tedious, soap-operatic way.
Although American viewers might be able to decipher in the plot hints of class envy, nepotism and rank-pulling, the issue of conscription is left entirely unexplained. It matters a great deal whether these sailors were career military personnel or ordinary citizens serving compulsorily, as each lends a different interpretation to the plot and characters.
The film's apparent faithfulness is admirable, but interviews with actual survivors shown during the end credits provide more impact and resonance than the rest of the film can muster.
"Northern Limit Line."
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
Playing: CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles.