There is no denying that John H. Lee’s Operation Chromite makes for entertaining cinema, but often it’s misjudged, for here’s a film vying for profundity, hoping to achieve an emotional impact when instead triggering only a rolling of the eyes. Unrelenting from the off-set, this conventional war drama is so generic and abides so stringently by the tropes of the genre at hand, it feels more akin to a spoof, which can only be acceptable when there’s a degree of self-awareness, of which this title has so very little.
Based on a harrowing true story of the Battle of Incheon, we meet undercover spy Jang Hak-soo (Lee Jung-jae), a South Korean Lieutenant deep within enemy territory, hoping to feed back vital pieces of information to the UN about their North Korean adversaries. Reporting to Douglas MacArthur (Liam Neeson), they’re striving to pull off an ambitious, covert operation to give victory to the overwhelming underdog – though after their cover is blow, it makes matters a lot harder, hoping to see the job through without losing an abundance of lives in the process.
The opening act starts this narrative off well, for there’s a suspense that derives from the fact we’re dealing with a spy vying desperately not to get found out. However it’s not one that lasts quite long enough, and once his cover is blown the film heads quite dramatically downhill, unable to cling off to the notion of suspense and instead relying on other elements, that continuously fall short. The action sequences should work as something of a saving grace, but they’re messy in their execution, despite being set against a visually impressive backdrop, with a grainy aesthetic that gives this film a classic feel. The line between classic and cliché is a rather fine one though, and the music is emblematic of that, horribly mawkish in parts, on hand to manipulative the viewer, reminding us exactly how we should be feeling at any given moment.
In Operation Chromite, subtlety is really not something to be celebrated, especially in the countless, contrived one-liners Neeson is blessed with. The actor does take something of a back-seat however, appearing more so in a cameo role than anything else. But his very inclusion is indicative of a film that wants nothing more than to appease an international market, yet seems to be so caught up by this endeavour that it loses sight of the one thing that matters most; the story.