'Operation Chromite': Five Things to Know About Liam Neeson's South Korean Hit

CJ Entertainment
'Operation Chromite'

The actioner starring Neeson as General MacArthur during the Korean War topped 'Suicide Squad' in the local box office.

Operation Chromite, the new South Korean actioner starring Liam Neeson, opens on 130 screens across North America on Friday, before hitting some 50 other territories by year end.

The movie is set during the Korean War (1950-53), which has unfortunately been dubbed "the forgotten war." The CJ Entertainment title, however, is making a memorable performance in the local box office: since debuting at No. 1 on July 27, it is already the year's fifth- highest-grossing film here at a cume $37 million.

The John H. Lee film has topped Hollywood imports like Suicide Squad, The Secret Life of Pets and Jason Bourne, which ranked third, fourth and sixth, respectively, this past weekend from Aug. 5 to 7. Expectations are high as the movie readies to bow stateside this week, marking the biggest opening for a Korean-language film in the region — this beats the record hitherto held by The Host, which debuted on 71 North American screens in 2007.

Here are five things to know about the battle flick:

1. The film is based on real historical events.

At the end of World War II in 1945, Korea was liberated from colonial Japan (1910-1945) and was then separated into the U.S.-occupied South and then-U.S.S.R-controlled North. North Korean armed forces invaded the South on June 25, 1950, and a three-year battle ensued.

The conflict took place during the height of McCarthyism, and American political leaders at the time largely justified U.S. involvement in the war as a sort of "anti-communist crusade." Then-President Truman called it "police action." Operation Chromite spotlights a namesake military action that kicked off three months after the war broke out, on Sept. 25, 1950. Officially known as the Incheon Landing Operation, the mission is credited with changing the tide of the Korean War in favor of the U.N. forces.

2. The Korean War is called "the forgotten war."

In spite of being one of modern history's bloodiest conflicts, however, the Korean War has been called "the forgotten war." U.S. News & World Report gave it the moniker in 1951 due to the lack of public attention — even though 2 million Americans fought and suffered a high number of casualties (estimated to be around 37,000 to 54,000) comparable to the Vietnam War.

3. Operation Chromite is nevertheless considered a legendary military mission.

The Incheon Landing Operation, of which the code name was the film's titular "operation chromite," is often noted as one of the most brilliant in 20th-century warfare along with the Normandy "D-Day" landings during World War II.

Liam Neeson plays the role of General Douglas MacArthur, who was the think tank behind the operation. During his recent Seoul tour, the actor explained how the war hero had "this crazy idea to land 75,000 troops in the port of Incheon, which is as wide as this [hotel ballroom]."

There was supposedly one chance in 5,000 for the landing to succeed. "It's a decision that Gen. MacArthur had to make, knowing that millions of lives will be at stake and it just made me very aware of decisions that our leaders, our politicians have to make, perhaps not only a daily basis but during the tenure of their office," said Neeson.

The film zooms in on eight South Korean men who take part in a spy mission as part of the operation, and A-lister Lee Jung-jae plays one of the agents who secretly enlists in the North Korean army.

4. Operation Chromite was crowdfunded, and investors are extremely happy.

The film was produced on a budget of about 12 billion Korean won (about $12 million), of which roughly 500 million won ($447,700) was crowdfunded. The 288 people who invested in the film through this funding process have a lot of reasons to be happy, as the film's cumulative gross crossed $37 million this weekend.

The film was also sold to more than 50 territories around the world, and actors Lee Jung-jae and Lee Bum-soo, who play South and North Korean soldiers, respectively, will take part in red-carpet premieres for the film in LA and nearby cities Thursday and Friday. An increasing number of movies have been made through crowdfunding in recent Korean cinema, such as the World War II sex slave drama Spirits' Homecoming.

5. The Korean War is essentially not over, and this makes Neeson a bit nervous.

No peace treaty was signed at war's end, and instead, a cease-fire agreement was signed in 1953.

"North Korea and South Korea signed an armistice in 1953 and both countries are still essentially at war. It's a horrifying situation and in light of very recent events [such as the Sony hack] we are all, not just as filmmakers, but as citizens of this world, very concerned," Neeson said.

Essentially nothing has been resolved. To this day, a heavily militarized "demilitarized zone" separates North and South Koreas. The DMZ, spanning 2.5 miles in width and 250 miles in length, cuts across the Korean Peninsula. This specimen of the Cold War is one of the hottest local tourist destinations and, ironically, a symbol of peace.

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