Silmido is a movie about passing the point of no return. This film is not your ordinary testosterone filled boot camp movie. In 1968, a group of North-Korean commandos composed of 31 men cross the border in an attempt to assassinate South-Korea president Park Chung-hee. They failed. But they were close to succeeding. Real close. They get caught, naturally, and get brought to the island Silmido. There they are given an ultimatum which consisted of either them going back, and serve out their sentences, or they can stay and take on a special mission. Interesting occurances follow.
Understand that these are characters who, in the normal course of things, would not deserve any sympathy from an ordinary person, but in this film, they elicit more than sympathy. They actually make the viewers feel. In thinking about this review it occurred to me that Silmido is not a film I’m supposed to enjoy. Kang woo-suk’s muscular tale of Death Row desperados combines brawn and brain to compelling effect. A polished production, told with great verve, Silmido offers more than mindless mayhem with the moral dilemmas and personal relationships adding weight to the gunplay and bloodshed.
The actors do a solid job, but you can’t really single one out. This is very much an ensemble piece. We follow the bunch as a whole, and focus on any individual character is very limited. However, from the inital set-up, the cinematic sequences of physical torture and brutal training, and the well-handled military-styled action it’s clear that this is meant as an entertainment vehicle more than a historical reenaction.
The story does have such an indepth coverage of the soldiers that even if you don’t like war movies to much you can still get into this movie. On a side note if you are ever in South Korea there are trips offered to visit the site of the Silmido incident. To the film’s credit, it is not necessary for one to have a knowledge of Korean History and culture to appreciate the film. Of course, those with the knowledge would probably have an advantage. It is also nice to see a film that tells a true story with such an admirable level of grit and lack of sentimentality. Silmido is an overlooked modern classic that needs to be seen.