There’s no indication there’s a better movie anywhere in Operation Chromite. Director Lee just doesn’t have a handle on it. The script’s an uncomfortable mix of predictable and manipulative–director Lee and co-writer Lee Man-hee lay on the war movie jingoism so thick, it actually takes a while to realize Lee Beom-su’s giving a legitimately great performance as the North Korean bad guy. There’s too much crap going on with really questionable guest star Liam Neeson.
While the decent parts of Operation Chromite are a South Korean film with actors speaking Korean, there are these horrendous moments with Liam Neeson as General Douglas MacArthur. It’s a terrible performance, the kind you’d think Neeson would only give if he didn’t think the film would get a release in the United States. Sean Dulake did the dialogue for the English language scenes (he also appears as Neeson’s sidekick); it’s awful dialogue. You don’t have any respect for Neeson, but I did feel bad for Jon Gries, who shows up to have an awful expository dialogue argument. I hope Neeson bought something nice with his paycheck.
Worse–sort of–is the digital composites intended to convince the audience Neeson is filming with the rest of the cast. He’s clearly not, as the terrible composites betray. Chromite’s cinematography is weak to begin with, especially since they attempt to match the overblown lighting of the composite shots. As if Lee Dong-joon’s soulful but adventurous, rousing but melancholy music doesn’t slather on the vapid anti-Communism message enough–more on it in a second–with that overblown lighting and Neeson’s porky performance….
Neeson and Lee’s handling of his scenes, not to mention the crappy, manipulative resolution, sink Operation Chromite. Because even though it was a dumb, jingoistic action war thriller, it was a relatively fun one. Sure, whenever the movie tries to juxtapose Communist Lee Beom-su and ex-Communist Lee Jung-jae and their ideologies and whatever, it’s crap. But it’s crap whenever Neeson is around too so it’s a familiar experience. You just wait them out, because otherwise it’s sort of fun. None of the characters get enough attention but they’re at least likable performances, some of them good. Director Lee doesn’t know how to get a good performance–not in English, not in Korean–but he does recognize when he’s shooting one and gives his actors occasional space. The leads anyway.
If Operation Chromite were a completely different dumb, jingoistic action war thriller, with a different script, a different director, no Liam Neeson, but the same Korean cast and the same concept, it’d be better. With an excellent director–someone who knew how to make a war movie (since Chromite goes through various types of war movie sequences, haphazardly stuck together with CG), someone who knew how to balance a big cast–and a better script, the project might deserve the performances Lee Beom-su and Lee Jung-jae put into it.
Lee Beom-su’s evil little North Korean commander is a dangerous person. Even in the exaggerated scenes, Lee Beom-su brings something real to it. Everyone in Operation Chromite is a caricature (at best), but Lee Beom-su makes it feel like his character is pretending to be a caricature. Shame the script can’t keep up.
And Lee Jung-jae’s great as the soulful ex-Communist turned action hero. It’s not a deep role, but it’s got some details and Lee Jung-jae’s able to make it work. He’s got some excellent scenes in the film, even if his character’s way too thin.
The most disappointing thing is, after a rocky start, Operation Chromite gets better. The less Neeson, the better. Then he comes back. And down it all goes. But it’s not just him–it’s got a weak third act. Chromite is a mess with occasional smooth patches.
Directed by John H. Lee; written by Sean Dulake, Lee Man-hee, and John H. Lee; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Lee Dong-joon; produced by Chung Taewon; released by CJ Entertainment.
Starring Lee Jung-jae (Jang Hak-soo), Lee Beom-su (Lim Gye-jin), Jin Se-yeon (Han Jae-seon), Park Cheol-min (Nam Ki-seong), Kim Hee-jin (Ryu Jang-choon), and Liam Neeson (Douglas MacArthur).