The intention of Carlo Marco Cruz's The Forgotten War is admirable. A film about the Filipino troops sent to Korea as part of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK) in the early 1950s, it aims to memorialize the contributions of the PEFTOF during the Korean War. And with the names attached to the project—including actors Yul Servo, Baron Geisler, and Arnold Reyes, among others—it could have done what Mark Meily's Baler did for the Siege of Baler.
Sadly, intention and an all-star cast do not a good movie make. The Forgotten War recreated battle scenes during the war, but the film doesn't go beyond mere reenactment of choice episodes during the Korean War. This is shame, as it seemed the movie had so many good stories to tell.
THE PLOT. The Forgotten War consists of four parts, each one recreating events during the war that involved each of the four Battalion Combat Teams (BCT) sent to Korea from 1950 to 1953 under the United Nations Command. The four stories encompass the three-year conflict between the Chinese-allied North Korea and the United States-allied South Korea. Most of the characters on the film were based from real people.
In the first part of the film, Yul and Baron play best friends who are part of the first team sent to Korea. They struggle to cope with the hardships brought by the war: the cold weather, their lack of supplies and equipment, and their longing for their families. In "Rizal Day: Defending Eerie Hill," Pinoy Big Brother's Mikee Lee joins the war to prove his strength and courage to his father.
Arnold plays the young Fidel V. Ramos in "Baptism of Fire." Unknown to many, the former Philippine President was a company commander in the Korean War, where he led a reconnaissance team that reclaimed an important military outpost at Hill Eerie. And in "Armistice," Blumark Roces is a Filipino soldier who falls in love with a Korean woman, played by Kyla Lapuz, near the end of the war.
THE VERDICT. During the premiere of The Forgotten War, Cruz said he initially refused to direct the film. However, he said "the man on the 500 peso bill" changed his mind. Besides the involvement of former President Ramos, former senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. also had involvement in the war since he was war correspondent for The Manila Times. How come very few people know about this, he asks.
But instead of capitalizing on these stories, the film tried to tackle every aspect of the Filipino's involvement in the war. The Forgotten War ends up being an episodic summarization of key events during a particular period in history.
Had The Forgotten War focused on a few characters instead of trying to cram three years worth of history into a two-hour film, it might have been more successful. Here, Direk Carlo wouldn't have a problem.
It was great to see Baron play the good guy in The Forgotten War. Except for the Cinemalaya entry Jay, his various independent film and television show incarnations involved him playing a troubled hero (as in Padyak) or a typical bad guy (as in ABS-CBN's Eva Fonda and Tayong Dalawa). He could have carried the film by himself, given the right material. Unfortunately, he wasn't given much to do here.
Arnold's take the former president as company commander was also refreshing but, again, all the the film asked him to do was resemble a young Ramos.
This is a shame, because "Baptism of Fire" could have been interesting. For a film more concerned with presenting history as is, it's strange how "Baptism of Fire" lacks vital details that could have given at least that part of the film more sense. The film did not go beyond the cursory namedropping of real life figures and information (the former President was a Westpoint graduate). Ramos' achievements during the Korean War are significant and impressive. Watching The Forgotten War, I didn't understand why. It wasn't even shown how his team won against the Chinese. The Wikipedia entry on the former President discussed the team's efforts more thoroughly; it even revealed—if we are to trust that the entry is reliable—a little bit of his character (confident and sarcastic), which is more than what The Forgotten War did.
The Forgotten War will be screened out of competition at this year's Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival to be held from July 17 to 26, 2009.
PEP REVIEW: The Forgotten War
by Chuck Smith posted on June 18, 2009