> Movies of the Korean War
> Pork Chop Hill

Classic Korean War Films
Did you know? The Manchurian Candidate was kept out of circulation for years following JFK's assassination.

  • The Korean War didn't inspire a lot of movies, but it inspired two bona fide masterpieces.
  • The Manchurian Candidate is a tour-de-force that still seems ahead of its time.
  • MASH was understood to really be about Vietnam, but it was set in Korea in order to distance it.

  • The Korean War is America's forgotten war. If people under the age of 30 have any knowledge of this "police action" at all, it probably comes from watching reruns of MASH. Nestled snugly between the last good war, World War II, and that twelve year nightmare known as Vietnam, the Korean War is mostly forgotten because, well, nothing at all was accomplished. We didn't win it, we didn't lose it, and the situation on the Korean peninsula is pretty much the same now, over fifty years later, as it was when we first sent troops there.

    When it comes to movies, the Korean War may appear to be a forgotten stepchild as well. Only the War of 1812 and the Spanish-American War have produced fewer celluloid retellings. While the Revolutionary War and the Civil War have provided fodder for cinematic history lessons since the beginning of the movie business, and while the two World Wars provide excellent opportunities for drumming up patriotism, it is probably America's greatest military failure that has provided material for the most classic films about war. The Vietnam War gave us Apocalypse Now, The Deerhunter, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon and a host of other fine cinematic achievements. But what of the Korean War? Are there any great Korean War movies?

    Oh yeah. You'd better believe it.

    In fact, I'd go far as to say that the two best movies made about the Korean War are as good as the best movies made about any of the other wars. When it comes to Korean War movies, we're basically talking quality, not quantity.

    Arguably the first great Korean War movie was The Bridges at Toko-Ri. It stars William Holden, Fredric March and Grace Kelly. Made in 1954, the story revolves around Holden's character, a World War II veteran who finds himself called back into service. Noted mainly for its intense air and sea battle sequences, it's also fascinating as a human interest story. Fredric March gives his usual brilliant performance; was there any role he couldn't play? Here he plays an admiral tormented by the fact that his two sons died in war. He is smart enough to realize there isn't any such thing as a good war and this one especially doesn't qualify. William Holden and Grace Kelly aren't particularly memorable, but that doesn't lessen the impact of this story. A great surprise is Mickey Rooney as one of Holden's shipmates. The political implications and the great questions of why America was even in Korea aren't really raised in this film. It's more of a thrilling World War II story transferred to Korea, but it still holds up.

    Equally old-fashioned, but still very enjoyable is Pork Chop Hill. Directed by Hollywood legend Lewis Milestone, this one came out several years after the peace treaty brought troops home. This is a grittier movie than Toko-Ri, told with an eye toward realism as it recounts the story of the capture of Pork Chop Hill. The film is clearly in line with the anti-communist hysteria of the 50s as it tells the true story of the assault on Pork Chop Hill by American troops during the peace talks as they were determined to prove to the communists that the war would continue indefinitely if peace negotiations fell through. It's all very jingoistic and rather sad coming just precious years before the young men who went to see this movie were shipped off to Vietnam, no doubt filled with the images of heroism captured by this and similar movies.

    The fact that only three years separates Pork Chop Hill from The Manchurian Candidate is simply amazing. Frankly, despite having been made over forty years ago, the original Manchurian Candidate still seems ahead of its time. Although this article is about the best Korean War movies ever made, it's not really a war movie and, simply put, this is one of the greatest moves ever made. Period.

    Directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate is about a Korean War hero. Or is he? If for nothing else, this movie is mandatory viewing for its jaw-dropping sequences involving Korean brainwashing techniques. If you consider yourself interested in serious film at all, your heart will be racing as you watch in awe as garden party speech turns into a homicidal brainwashing session. It's simply phenomenal; one of the most amazing sequences in the history of movies.

    The Korean War and the undertones of communist paranoia permeate the movie. What is real, what is implanted in the minds of the characters? Who is in charge of us? Indeed, the movie was one of the first that dared to ask whether any of us can ever know for sure whether the decisions we have convinced ourselves we made freely are really free or whether we are at the mercy of some unknown puppet master. If you only know the story of the Manchurian Candidate from the recent remake, you don't know jack. The original is truly original, one of the most stunningly original films ever made. To say that it is the best Korean War-related movie of all time is redundant.

    But, of course, there is one movie that doesn't require that little tag-related. The best movie ever made about the Korean War, the actual war part- even though there are no battle scenes-is, of course, M*A*S*H.

    From its first appearance on movie screens, it was understood that though the setting was the Korean War, MASH was really about another war - the war that was going on when it was released. Yes, MASH is really about Vietnam, but it is still the best Korean War (not just related) movie ever made. The movie made stars of Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould and turned Robert Altman into one of the hottest directors around. It was this film that established his signature mark of overlapping dialogue, with not just two, but three or four or five characters speaking at a time. Sometimes, this gimmick didn't fit. In MASH, it was essential.

    The film is about Hawkeye and Duke, of course, but it's about everyone working at the field hospital. It's about the insanity of sewing up battle-damaged kids just to send them right back out to the front where they get wounded again. Or killed. It's about the willingness to do not what's right for our government, but what's right for humanity. The Korean War, like the Vietnam War, was even more of an insane, unnecessary war than most. (Though probably not as insane and unnecessary as our current episode in Iraq). American security had no stake in the collapse of either South Korea or South Vietnam to communist rule. Want proof: S. Vietnam did fall and Americans barely took notice.

    MASH could not have been made during or immediately after the Korean War. Some say it couldn't have been made if it had been set in Vietnam. Setting it in Korea at the time safely distanced it. It is a movie just as real and dramatic-for all its laughs-as any World War II movie made in the 40s. It gave birth to one of the most acclaimed and honored television shows of all time.

    The Korean War is increasingly becoming a footnote in American history. It is conveniently forgotten because it ended in a stalemate and was fought for questionable reasons in the first place. It only lasted three years. That makes it all the more remarkable that it produced not only two of the greatest war films of all time, but, indeed, two of the most remarkably ahead-of-their-times films ever made. The Manchurian Candidate and MASH couldn't attack the issues of the Korean War more differently, and both managed to become classics that seem ageless. User-generated content powered by Associated Content| Publish your own Content|