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Silmido: Soldiers fight for honor

by Kyle Galdeira, staff writer


“Loyalty!” scream the members of Special Unit 684 each time they are called to attention.The group of 31 men make up the South Korean Silmido Special Unit whose mission is to infiltrate the North Korean presidential palace in Pyongyang and slit the throat of President Kim Il-sung.

The group is commissioned to retaliate in response to North Korea’s Special Unit 124 which infiltrated South Korea in January, 1968 with the hopes of entering the Blue House, the presidential palace in Korea, and assassinating then President Park Chung-hee. After the unit fails to execute their orders, Special Unit 684 is formed with 31 convicts—all facing death sentences—who are promised freedom and fame upon successful completion of the retaliatory mission.

Based on a true story, Silmido follows the dysfunctional group of criminals and outcasts who endure rigorous military training designed to promote a successful operation. Lieutenant Choi and Sergeant Heo (the actors names were in Kanji and were unfathomable to this writer) lead the unit through a vigorous training routine including an obstacle course, marksmanship, pain tolerance, and suicide training; the leaders explain that if captured, suicide is the best option for protecting the unit because the enemy will torture prisoners until they give up vital information regarding the confidential mission.

After training for two years, the unit is given orders to commence the mission. However, just as the soldiers are paddling away from the island, the central command calls and orders a halt to the mission due to a growing sentiment of peace between North and South Korea. The soldiers are told to keep training, but without a mission they become discouraged and start to lose focus.

Two soldiers sneak away to a nearby island and rape a civilian girl. When they are caught, the entire unit is beaten by the officers. After realizing they have nothing left to live for, the unit decides to carry out the mission anyway, despite knowing that they will be executed upon doing so.

The movie focuses on the emotions of the soldiers as they come together to fight for their freedom and work to complete the strenuous training routine. There is no shortage of graphic violence or blood as soldiers are shot in combat scenes. Upon realizing that the unit will be executed by the military, each member uses his blood to write his name on the wall of their bus in hopes of being honored for their sacrifice.

Silmido was shot by Kim Seong-bok in Korea, New Zealand, and Malta, and was directed by Kang Woo-suk. It is the first film to sell over 10 million tickets in Korea.


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