Spirited Korean War Drama
Liam Neeson leads the casting of this war drama domestically, but Operation Chromite is appropriately dominated by its native Korean cast. With frequent dramatic cigarette drags and steely eyes, Beom-su Lee’s turn as North Korea’s Senior Colonel is stellar, a villain worthy of pushing the entire UN armed forces into his occupied territory.
Lee’s work sells Operation Chromite. Character development otherwise dies from malnourished focus, the film split into two blended parts (albeit an engaging pair). The first spurs up a charged spy story with South Koreans hunting for maps to assist the soon-to-arrive invading force in Incheon. John H. Lee’s direction satiates the need for wartime shoot-outs and intense near misses, crafted with engaging edits to involve viewers, lacking in character definition or not.
The second brings the empty grandiosity of naval bombardments and swells of explosions. Under the flurry remains a story of nationalist-driven sacrifice and theatrical gunplay. Luxurious in scale, if openly artificial, with an international spark lending a touch of credence to a personal South Korean tale.
Although Lee’s machine gun-happy, Communism-spiting action drama feeds the marketing end, Operation Chromite better exposes the appalling effects of totalitarianism which swept through Korea at the height of war. The sensational subtly of hanging propaganda, the publicly boasted executions, and seemingly automatic recitals of Northern rhetoric deliver the often unseen impact of the conflict, at least Stateside. Whatever authenticity is negated by the booming action (and a repetitious fetish for exaggerated sun-backed cinematography), Operation Chromite restores in its more delicate historical touches.
Deep seated paranoia from the occupying power feeds the first two acts, servicing the narrative drive, more so than Neeson’s involvement – the English-speaking cast around his portrayal as Douglas MacArthur offers no compliment to his presence. MacArthur, too, languishes as a predominantly minimal wartime feature as opposed to a leader. Same goes for the Korean side. Navy Lieutenant and resistance leader Jung-jae Lee comes across as a heroic figment, an idolized hero of improbable perfection, lessening the role of the fighters under his guard.
Melodrama and overdrawn caricatures aside, Operation Chromite does satisfy, sprouting a notable story of clever rebellion, bravery, and resistance to an invading ideology. Those themes frequently define the genre, and the South Korean touch evokes frustration over the anxieties remaining in the region. A capable bit of mass nationalism, made for its localized audience even with unusual international cooperation.
(The last Hollywood/South Korean production pairing? Ironically for the 1981 Laurence Olivier-led, Razzie-securing flop Incheon.)
Somewhat faded black levels won’t damage the presentation. Dryness in the shadows oddly makes the desperate visual space more appealing and appropriate, especially in the third act’s overwhelming darkness.
Overlaid is a grain layer, resolved with average effect by CJ Entertainment’s encode. Expectations for the special effect scenes aside – where noise becomes especially persistent – Operation Chromite feels quite digital throughout. This comes as a fault of compression, almost entirely.
Source resolution betrays the computer generated elements, yet helps the stellar close-ups. Fidelity powers all of Operation Chromite, revealing superlative details in the town settings while maintaining consistency when the camera pushes in tight. Exquisite uniform texture and vivid overall sharpness shrug off those compression bothers.
Color grading sways between acidic hues and moon-like blues, the pairing not particularly attractive if rarely invasive. A hearty contrast keeps depth energized, frequently exaggerated for intensity. This stays true even for nighttime cinematography, the counter needed for the sedate blacks.
Ignore the slipcover and disc which note Dolby Digital. Once into the menu, Korean DTS-HD is offered (with forced subtitles). While the mix lacks the overlaid gloss of localized war offerings, gunfire scatters in precise locations. Indoor shoot-outs reverberate nicely, with a natural fill into the surrounds. Later exchanges fare better, certainly thanks to an increase in scale. A car chase offers exceptional pans. Ambiance in the form of rain and town activity layers Operation Chromite.
Grenade explosions set off a sizable LFE punch, eventually superseded by the meaty bass of US naval cannons firing at the shoreline. Each shot hits with spectacular force. The entirety of the finale is a showcase.
A short four minute making of (which feels cut down from a longer one) and trailers act as the bonuses.
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