VOD film review: Operation Chromite
Old fashioned war movie thrills6
Matthew Turner | On 26, Dec 2016
Director: John H. Lee
Cast: Liam Neeson, Lee Jung-jae, Lee Bum-soo, Jin Se-yeon
Watch Operation Chromite online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
A box-office hit in its native South Korea, director John H. Lee’s war thriller is based on the true story of the daring operation that lead to General MacArthur’s tide-turning invasion of Incheon during the Korean War. Unfortunately, while the film acquits itself nicely in the provision of old-school war movie thrills, it falls disappointingly short in other areas, resulting in something of a mixed bag.
Parachuted in to give the movie some overseas clout, Liam Neeson plays General Douglas MacArthur, who’s convinced the tide of the Korean War can be turned by landing an invasion at the Port of Incheon. For the invasion to succeed, MacArthur requires details of the enemy’s defences and mine placements, so he recruits a team of South Korean soldiers, led by Communist defector Jang Hak-Soo (Lee Jung-jae), to pose as North Koreans and steal the necessary plans. However, they reckon without borderline psychotic North Korean commander Lim Gye-jin (Lee Bum-soo), who’s immediately suspicious of their arrival and keeps a watchful eye on them.
The film is much more successful in its men-on-a-mission segments than it is elsewhere – in fact, it’s odd that it’s called Operation Chromite, since that refers to the invasion itself, whereas the operation to steal the plans is much more compelling and forms the heart of the movie. At any rate, Lee maintains a decent pace, cranking up the tension by keeping his characters in constant jeopardy and staging some excitingly chaotic action sequences.
Lee Jung-jae is extremely charismatic in the lead role, remaining cool under pressure even when things go pear-shaped (which happens a lot). He’s equally matched by Lee Bum-soo, who’s properly chilling as the unhinged commander who comes to see Jang as his personal nemesis. The problem lies with all the supporting characters, who are given little to no definition or personality, so that when some of them get killed (which also happens a lot), characters scream their names like it’s meant to mean something but the audience barely notices they’re gone. It’s entirely possible that some important character work ended up on the cutting room floor, but whatever the reason, the net result is like watching a version of Ocean’s Eleven, where only Clooney and Pitt get speaking parts.
As for Neeson, he’s clearly enjoying himself with his empty corn pipe and a twinkle in his eye that suggests he’s already cashed his paycheck. However, his dialogue is so laughably terrible (sample line: “A long time ago, I promised myself I would live as though I expected to live forever…”) that it often seems like he’s in a completely different film.
Things are further let down by some sub-standard production values, particularly some shoddy-looking CGI work that makes the battleship sequences look like a cheap video game. It’s also fair to say that the climactic invasion is rather disappointing and lacks the tension of the preceding events. It all remains watchable thanks to the cat-and-mouse performances of the Korean leads and some enjoyably tense action, but you can’t help wishing someone had thrown a bit more money at it.
Operation Chromite is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.