Tag Archives: Cold War

What is America missing that gives Korean cinema an edge over the domestic crap we call film? Simple, we still have a Cold War between the North and the South which invites many exciting scripts and opportunities.

For years many of America’s greatest films have a basis in some form of Cold War tension or potential disaster. Think about the many James Bond movies, or movies like The Spy Who Came in From Out of the Cold (previously reviewed on this site), Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, and the list could go on and on. However with the Cold War essentially over in 1989 all these great spy and other similar type dramas had withered away at least here in America.

Let us not forget though that North and South Korea are still technically at war.  Only an armistice has been signed, not a treaty, so to say they have a Cold War between two countries is actually an understatement. Now that Sonny boy has taken over and is posing for the world by blowing up his uncles and other relatives, the potential for story lines is wide open not only for the division of North and South Korea but also for the unification of North and South Korea. Perhaps even our idiotic American writers could come up with a good script. Since 1950 we have had over 50 years of tales of the North brainwashing its citizens and the South trembling at the size of their army, each country spying the balls out of the other, the North using torture, the South using more conventional techniques. You also get some good tangential spinoffs like City Hunter (previously reviewed on this site). That’s not to even mention the gangster movies (though they have nothing to do with the Cold War). You get all three. It’s a writer’s dream. Women are even given a stronger role in Korean movies and television shows than they used to be. So let’s take a look. The next three movies we review will embody this blend of Cold War situations and themes and gritty writing. But if you are an American director, take note: we at JPFMovies are not advocating that you copy any more Asian films. These movies and shows are offered as role models and not as material to be plagiarized (as Spike Lee just did with Old Boy):

Joint Security Area

Poongsang Dog


Stay alert. But beware. Once you get hooked on really good Korean cinema, you may not find yourself able to set foot in an American theater ever again. We at JPFMovies know this for a fact, as it has been over a decade since we had the stomachs for American film.

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Posted by on September 13, 2014 in Movie Reviews


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The Hunt For Red October (1990).

The third review in our Cold War trilogy couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.  Unfortunately, a few days ago, at age 66, author Tom Clancy passed away due to a massive heart attack.  By 66 he had written the Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, the Sum of all Fears and others.  Each book was made into a commercially successful film.  Prior to writing The Hunt for Red October, Clancy apparently sold insurance.  Well that was one hell of a first novel, being made into a block buster movie within a couple of years after publication and having a strong cast.


It is also interesting to note that the mutiny portrayed on the Red October was actually based on the mutiny of a Soviet frigate led by the ship’s political commissar, Captain of the Third Rank Valery Sablin, who wished to protest against the rampant corruption of the Leonid Brezhnev era.  Though his aim was to seize the ship and steer it out of the Bay of Riga, to Leningrad and broadcast a nationwide address to the people, not turn the ship over to the enemy.  In the planned address, Sablin was going to say what he believed people publicly wanted to say, but could only be said in private: that communism and the motherland were in danger; the ruling authorities were hip deep in corruption, demagoguery, graft, and lies, leading the country into an abyss; true communism had been discarded; and there was a need to revive the Leninist principles of “justice.”  So while defection was not the ultimate goal of this mutineer, it was the genesis of the Hunt for Red October story.


Back to Red October: in the film Sean Connery plays the Russian Captain Marko Ramius, Sam Neill his executive officer, Alec Baldwin portrays CIA analyst Jack Ryan, James Earl Jones the well-respected Admiral Greere, Fred Thompson the commander of an aircraft carrier fleet and Scott Glen Commander Bart Mancuso, Commanding Officer of the USS Dallas.  This is a pretty heavy cast for a first time novel turned movie—and it is well done I must say.

The movie starts a cold dreary port somewhere in northern Russia with Connery speaking to his executive officer (in Russian) Sam Neill about how cold it is and orders the ship to move on its way to start its mission.  What no one but Soviet officials know is that this particular sub uses a new form of propulsion that is virtually undetectable by conventional sonar means.  It is sort of described as the jet engine of the submarine world.  Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) is called to his boss’ office (James Earls Jones as Admiral Greer) rather quickly as new photographs of the sub had been obtained showing unusual ports alongside of the sub.  Ryan goes out on a limb and suggests that these photographs are evidence of a new propulsion system that would permit the sub to slip through all the US and NATO safeguards tracking traditional submarines.  Alarmed by this potential weakness in US defenses, Greer arranges for an immediate briefing with the President’s national security advisor.  Ryan gives the briefing but isn’t told until the last minute.  After his summation to the powers that be, an NSA representative reveals that a phone call was made from a Russian Admiral (Ramius’ uncle) which resulted in the immediate dispatch of the entire Soviet Northern naval fleet with orders to pursue and hunt down The Red October.

Virtually all military personnel at the meeting immediately conclude that Ramius is a madman loose with 23 nuclear missiles in an undetectable submarine heading towards the coast of the United States.  After a few minutes of deep thinking, Ryan starts laughing and claims “the son of a bitch is going to defect!”

Everyone in the room dismisses his comments, except for the national security advisor who says that he’s “a politician and when he’s not kissing babies he’s stealing their lollipops, but it also means he keeps his options open” and lets Jack explore the possibility of this Soviet defection.


While en route to the United States Ramius tells his men that in order to motivate them, much like Cortez did when he had his men burn his ships upon landing, he sent a letter to the powers that be that they intended to defect with the ship.  Soon Soviet forces are dropping sonar buoys, torpedoes and other weapons at the Red October, scaring the crew who are unaware of his plans and begin to think something is very very wrong.


Ramius’ concerns are not the Soviets though but the Americans.  He is afraid that if they encounter some “buckaroo” a/k/a cowboy all will be lost.  Enter Jack Ryan, who is convinced that Ramius is ready to defect, the only problem is that the Capitan Bart Mancuso, Commanding Officer of the USS Dallas has already received his orders to destroy the Red October.  Ryan convinves him that he knows Ramius so well that he predicted which way the Red October would pull a “crazy Ivan” to clear its baffles.  Mancuso then ups his periscope to communicate with Ramius directly, but is worried that his Morse code is so rusty that he might be transmitting the “[playboy] playmate of the month’s measurements.” Stunned that the Americans have guessed his plan to defect, both subs move towards a very deep part of the ocean where no wreckage could be found in case they have to fake the Red October’s destruction.


There is one wrinkle; that is, one of Ramius’s former students Tupolev has been hot on his tail and begins to torpedo the Red October.  After missing his first chance because the safety mechanisms were on, his second shot is with torpedoes with no safeties.  Enter USS Dallas that in a daring move is somehow able to divert the torpedoes into chasing it rather than the Red October and circles around ultimately leading the torpedoes back to their original shooter and destroying the ship.


The game is not over yet though as there is a KGB agent on board disguised as a cook’s assistant who is trying to hotwire one of the nuclear missiles to destroy the Red October before she falls into enemy hands.  Ryan is sent in to kill him but not before Ramius delivers a great line warning him to be careful what he shoots at because there are nuclear missiles in there.  Naturally Ryan takes care of business and fools the Russians into thinking that the Red October has been destroyed.


Yes I know this has been a long review, but this is an action packed thriller.  Its great cast and the film’s central fear of superpowers engaging in nuclear war, while seemingly quaint in light of today’s more insidious terrorist threats, has added resonance given recent revelations about the USSR’s Cold War designs to annihilate us.  Politics aside, however, The Hunt for Red October is a thrilling edge-of-your-seat trifle that has admirably withstood the test of time.  The film personifies the very real fears of the cold war era, but places itself outside of the dour the Spy Who Came in From Out of the Cold and the somewhat campy Ice Station Zebra.  Proof of its resilience is seen in a 96% Rotten Tomato’s rating and the film that in my opinion all future Clancy novels-turned movies are judged against.


This film makes for excellent comfort viewing, hearkening back to an era when all that was American was right and just, Reagan was the father we could look up to, and only a Communist would dare question the inherent gift that God had given to America to rule the earth.  All cinema has its agenda, and this film made little secret of it.  The Cold War must go on, and justify those enormous ‘defense’ budgets, promote the ideology of the good guy.  Though the Bush revolution has had its share of films attempting to pick up where this tradition had left off, they were largely miserable failures, insufficiently blinded by ideology. The days of the 80′s action hero are quite dead.

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Posted by on October 16, 2013 in Movie Reviews


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Not as cold as Ice Station Zebra, but still the cold war: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963) starring Richard Burton and based on the novel by John le Carré.

The second movie in our cold war trilogy, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, is a lot grittier than Ice Station Zebra.  Based on the Novel by John le Carre, which is actually the pen name for David John Moore Cornwell, who in the 1950’s and 1960’s who actually work for British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6, and wrote a series of very successful novels presumably based on his experiences.  His novels are often contrasted with Ian Fleming’s sexy superhero type 007 James Bond movies and films, le Carre’s providing a more accurate portrait of cold war espionage.

The film describes secret agents as “seedy, squalid bastards,” and none is seedier or more squalid than Alec Leamas (Richard Burton), the weary semi-alcoholic brooder sent by British intelligence to East Germany.  The mission into East Berlin is slowly revealed as a complex, table-turning operation that involves Leamas’s idealist Communist librarian turned lover (Claire Bloom) and his vicious, Teutonic counterpart (Peter Van Eyck).  Purposefully going against the grain of a genre known for thrills, glamor and beautiful women, the film’s director Ritt crafts a sober, weighty atmosphere of moral ambiguity in which spies from both sides are bound by their ruthlessness both against the enemy and each other.

With the cold rain pouring at Checkpoint Charlie, in this transition zone stands Alec Leamas the head of the East German British desk waiting-no hoping for the successful defection of one of his spies.  The man in question appears and makes a run for it but is cut down by gunfire.  Leamas is then recalled to London by his boss, Control (Cyril Cusack), expecting to be fired.   Instead Control decides to keep Leamas “out in the cold” for a devilish plot.  Supposedly, Leamas is soon looking for work and ends up as of all things as a menial librarian. With booze as his only friend, he broods and builds up resentment against the British Secret Service.  He hooks up fellow librarian and British secretary of the communist party Nan Perry (Claire Bloom), but soon assaults a shopkeeper and ands up in jail.

Nan must like him though, and vice versa, since she meets him on his release from prison. Interestingly, there is another chap there to see his return to society and he approaches him in the park. Claiming to be from a charity which helps ex-convicts, Carlton (Robert Hardy) takes Leamas to an expensive lunch. This is all double-talk of course — in reality it’s an approach from the enemy, checking out a disgruntled ex-spy and finding out if he’ll defect. Leamas seems to feel that he doesn’t owe Britain anything and, somewhat grudging, seems to accept (purely for the $15,000.00).  Then Leamas circuitously makes his way to Smiley’s (Rupert Davies) house, for a meeting with Control. Everything becomes clear as Control outlines the plan, a devious and cunning attempt to discredit the top East German spy, Hans-Dieter Mundt (Peter Van Eyck). With haste, Leamas is flown to Holland for de-briefing by Fiedler (Oskar Werner), the second in command to Mundt. The crux of the plan is that Fiedler detests Mundt and would do anything to destroy him and tries to but is burned in the process as we discover Mundt is actually a British agent working deep under cover.

The skills that Leamas has for espionage based on his years of experience, keep him alive as he weaves a convincing tale for Fiedler.  Realizing the “truth”, Fiedler bundles Leamas back to East Germany, where he hopes to bring down Mundt in a closed trial. Leamas is an added complication though since he insists that Mundt couldn’t have been a double-agent (he was head of East German operations and would have known). Fiedler still manages to force a trial though, absolutely convinced that Mundt is betraying his country, and the closed session begins. It seems as though the tribunal will rule against Mundt, resulting in his execution, until his defense lawyer presents an unexpected witness—Nan the librarian, whose testimony puts Fiedler into his grave. 

Mundt, though detested by Leamas and vice-versa, arranges for his and Nan’s exfiltration.  They need to get over the wall.  Everything is arranged, the guards are told to keep their spotlights away from a certain part of the wall long enough for the two to climb over.  However, as Leamas and Nan are climbing, their driver shoots Nan in the back (probably because she could prove to be a liability and expose everything) who falls to the ground.  Leamas is standing on the top of the wall as the alarms go off and spotlights shine on the area.  He is urged by fellow agent Smiley to jump.  Leamas does jump, but back to East Germany where he is shot by the guards before he hits the ground.

As the flip-side to the cartoonish antics of James Bond, this movie is both a welcome antidote and a snapshot of the now elegantly departed Cold War era.  The script has believable dialogue (most of the time the characters talk in metaphors, never actually voicing the real meaning) with a slow, wary pacing which reflects the nature of spying (the movie lasted about 90 minutes but felt like 3 hours—a good three hours though).  However, Richard Burton’s acting as the burnt-out, disillusioned, semi-alcoholic, shambling agent is fantastic.  The supporting actors are good, but their performances pale in comparison. The technical aspects, such as the cinematography, are noteworthy, working together to create an atmosphere where human lives are somehow worthless, where information is all that matters.  In summary, a cracking story with superb acting which reflects on a lost but not forgotten period in history.

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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Movie Reviews


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The Cold War–A Tribute.

I was watching my step daughter’s history documentary list for school and one of the last videos supposedly documents the Cold War.  Then it hit me.  Both she and her younger sister have no idea what living during the cold was like.  In fact, my ten year old even asked” “Why would anyone have an iron curtain?”

So our next tribute (which as you know is always three movies) is dedicated to films representing or otherwise try to capture the tension of the cold war.  Our first film, Ice Station Zebra (1968) is a classic staring (among others) Rock Hudson, Earnest Borgnine and Jim Brown.  One little known fact about this movie is that one of my hero’s (before he went off the deep end) the great pilot Howard Hughes was said to have watched the film on a continuous loop over 150 times in one sitting.

Our second movie in The Cold War tribute is The Spy Who Came in Out of the Cold (1965) starring Richard Burton and is about a British Spy who is stuck in East Germany,

The third and final tribute to the Cold War is The Hunt For Red October (1990) starring Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery, Fred Thompson, James Earl Jones and Sam Neill.  The formidable cast in the film makes it a great movie to watch and is even relatively clean for the kids.

So there you have it.  Our tribute to the Cold War—watch for the pending reviews.


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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Movie Reviews


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