The U.S. invasion of Inchon during the Korean War was one of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s greatest achievements. The same cannot be said for Laurence Olivier, who played MacArthur in 1982’s “Inchon,” a Unification Church-funded fiasco inspired by that battle.
Set during the run-up to the Inchon assault, “Operation Chromite” is somewhat better than its predecessor. That’s no thanks to Liam Neeson, who also bombs in the role of MacArthur.
The story opens with the general in Tokyo, looking surprisingly serious, considering that the stilted dialogue would reduce a less stoic actor to giggles. It’s 1950, and North Korean troops have conquered most of the peninsula’s south in about two months. The U.S. (and U.N.) commander must decide what to do next: Reinforce the small area that hasn’t fallen or boldly attack farther north.
MacArthur chooses the latter option, sending eight undercover agents into a hellish Inchon in order to lay the groundwork for the invasion, code-named “Chromite.” In reality, that spy mission was led by an American. But seeing as this is a Korean movie, there are no Yanks in the lineup. Instead, our hero is pretty boy Jang (Korean model and actor Lee Jeong-jae), a Moscow-trained defector from the north who is able to chat in Russian with Lim (Lee Beom-soo), the occupation’s ruthless commandant. That doesn’t entirely dispel Lim’s suspicions, however.
Jang and his men connect with members of the local resistance, gathering information on tides, mud flats and fortifications. Help also arrives in the form of a beautiful Communist (Jin Se-yeon) who switches sides just in time to add something that this old-fashioned adventure sorely needs: a damsel in distress.
Before the invasion begins, the infiltrators are supposed to seize a lighthouse. They should live so long. Although “Operation Chromite” often plays as if it had been made in the year it’s set, the film is up-to-date in its graphic depiction of violence — a specialty of recent Korean cinema. Although the movie is dedicated to 15 operatives who died, the onscreen death toll is considerably higher.
Spies are supposed to be inconspicuous, but director John H. Lee isn’t big on John Le Carré-style intrigue and introspection. (The dialogue comes in only two flavors: blustering and sentimental.) He’s better at the shootouts and chase scenes, which are loud, lively and well-choreographed, if sometimes outlandish.
The supposedly covert action led by Jang makes such a racket that it’s a wonder it doesn’t wake up Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang. That’s historically dubious, but typical of Lee’s approach to storytelling. The actual Operation Chromite was a surprise. In the movie version, you can hear everything coming from miles away.
Unrated. At area theaters. Contains bloody violence and smoking.
In Korean, English and Russian with subtitles. 110 minutes.