By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Wikipedia and military refers to it as the “Second Battle Of Yeonpyeong.” On June 29, 2002, two border patrol boats from North Korea slipped over the Northern Limit Line, the maritime boundary between the Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea (DPRK—North Korea) and the Republic Of Korea (South Korea) in the Yellow Sea. The two boats attacked two similar patrol boats from the Southern side, then withdrew.
Four North Koreans died at the scene. A fifth died later from wounds. A sixth was found dead later, under the waves. Eighteen were injured. The North Koreans suffered 13 dead and 25 wounded.
According to the later testimony of Jin-sung Jang, a North Korean government official who defected to the South, the wounded DPRK naval men ended up hiding in a hospital back at the North’s capital, Pyongyang.
The North didn’t want its people to see how badly their navy had fared.
“Northern Limit Line,” directed by Hak-soon Kim, makes no mention of the North Korean casualties. It devotes its 130 of running time to the men of South Korean Battleship 357—much smaller than what Americans would call a battleship, but crucial to the navy nonetheless.
I do not know how closely the film’s action follows what actually transpired. It’s derived from a novel, by Soon-jo Choi, and not a naval history.
It follows a young navy man who comes onto the vessel, taking ribbings and hazing from the old-timers. It follows the commanding officer and his crew, through their drills, their families, their rivalries, and resentments.
And they get up close to the Line. Close enough, in a few situations to see the faces of the Northern enemy.
Some of them live for duty. Some of them just live to watch South Korea progress in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, hosted for the first time in Asia, between South Korea and Japan.
South Korea made it to the third-place match, but lost 3-2 to Turkey. The film, perhaps understandably, focuses less on the South Korean team’s limitation, and more on the soccer mania suffusing the entire country.
Eventually, the North Korean vessels break the line and provoke. More than one critic has remarked that you can’t portray the horrors of war without getting people’s blood pulsing, getting them riled, more likely to wave a flag into combat than calmly back away from it. So the quick-cut combat scenes sometimes seem thrilling, not off-putting.
But enough of the blood seeps through. Enough of the shattered bodies, the horror. Some men cry. Some, much to their shame, freeze up. They know what they must do, from the drills. But when the bell rings for real, they cannot answer.
Again, I don’t know how much of this is accurate. But it sounds true to real soldiers’ experiences, generally.
And the director takes care to show us the ones left behind. A mother weeps. Another mother weeps and staggers. An old man, a military man himself, hugs his dead son’s empty uniform, allowing himself tears he wouldn’t brave in front of anyone else.
I wish I knew more about the facts. But the emotions, at least—from the blasts of shells to the quiet moans of grief—make sense enough to me. (end)
“Northern Limit Line” opens Friday, July 17th, at the AMC Alderwood 16, 18733 33rd Ave. West, Alderwood Mall, Lynwood, WA 98037. Check local listings for prices and show times.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.