Balgan Mahura (1964)

Or, in English, The Red Scarf.

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that war films (and by that I mean those films which stay true to the genre and aren’t crossovers or about genre-bending) fall into three main categories. The first is the propaganda film, like the Robert Taylor starrer Bataan:  made, typically, during a war (Bataan was made in 1943), and aimed, mainly, at showing audiences how brave and self-sacrificing and patriotic their men in uniform are, thus (hopefully) spurring others on to enlist. There are more subtle propaganda films, too, the type that don’t outright yell the message out, but which show how glorious a death it can be to die for your country.

Then, there are the ‘grim reality’ films (and these feature some of the very best war films I’ve ever seen): films that strip war of the valour, the patriotic fervour, and all the other jingoistic claptrap used by political and military leaders to whip up support for whichever war they want their countrymen (and women) to die for. Films, like Paths of Glory or Battleground, which show the dirt, the pain, the agony of war. Not just for those who go into battle, but also for those who have to stay behind, the civilians.

Then there are the adventure films, the suspense-ridden, high-adrenaline films like Where Eagles Dare or The Enemy Below, which are rather more escapist—true, they don’t completely disguise the nature of war, but they make violence part of the adventure, instead of something that can wreck human life.

The South Korean film Balgan Mahura (The Red Scarf) falls pretty much in the ‘propaganda’ category, though it does have some surprises that set it a little apart from the more trite representations of that category.

A tale about war: Balgan Mahura, 'The Red Scarf'

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The Desert Rats (1953)

I’m not a fan of mindless violence and blood and gore, but I’ve always adored old war movies. Whether it’s a fast-paced Alistair MacLean type thriller (read Where Eagles Dare, one of my all-time favourites) or a reliving of a real event, I love the atmosphere: the Schmeissers and the Vickers, the invariably atrocious German accents, the partisan natives, the courage and inherent good-ness of the good guys, which always triumphs over their own other weaknesses. Clichéd, I know, but watchable, too—as in this case.

The defence of Tobruk

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